“Jailbirds” Come Home For The Holidays

Here’s the kicker: most of the defendants awaiting trial or disposition shouldn’t be held in lieu of bail in the first place. For years, I’ve pointed out that judges have the power, if not the guts, to say no to the baby prosecutors who staff the arraignment parts and request “dumb” bail for defendants charged with petty offenses.

That $500 bail for the kid charged with misdemeanor weed possession may be trivial to the ADA and judge, but it’s $479 more than his mother can put together. So the kid sits, at shockingly substantial public expense that could buy him a suite in the George V, where he misses school or loses his job.

No, not all of them, as if that’s the only thing that matters, but many. All because some number popped into the baby ADA’s head and the judge, worried that his puss would appear on the front page of the New York Post as the Worst Judge in New York should the defendant go out and slaughter a busload of Catholic school students.

This will now change, due to the new bail law rushed through the state lege. It’s the flip side of all the things that were wrong with the system before, just now favoring the defense. Mandatory minimums, three strikes, all the one-size-fits-all solutions that filled up jail and needlessly ruined lives will now serve to release every defendant except those charged with certain the violent crimes. This time.

Screw the 37 bench warrants issued during the last 79 arrests, 14 of which were for heinous conduct that left bleeding bodies in their wake. There are bad dudes out there. There are decent folks as well who get caught up in a nasty system. The key has always been to distinguish between the two.

The problem has been prosecutors, despite their announcements of wokeness, just keep asking for bail, apparently unaware that their big boss says they’re not doing that anymore. And judges keep rubber stamping it, because what do they know about how bad this particular dude is? So the law is now taking it out of their hands, both the prosecutors who were never qualified to make a reasonable assessment and the judges who have no excuse for their failure to do so except their general cowardice.

It’s unclear what’s going to happen, but a few things can be fairly assumed: there will be defendants who fail to return to court. There were before, and their bail was forfeited and a warrant ordered. There will be again. The question is how many, who, and what does that mean for the public and the system. Probably not much.

Most defendants don’t want to live in fear of getting arrested, the warrant popping up, and getting banged for it on the back end. Most are entirely decent people. Not all, but most. They always have been, but you wouldn’t know it because you don’t hang around on their block, talk to them, hold their hands. They’re surprisingly like you and me, like anybody else. Not all, but most.

The other alternative is that what could have, and should have, happened all along that would have prevented this one-size-fits-all over-reaction to the damaging, expensive and pointless reaction of holding people for months and years on low bail for petty offenses, will not be vilified. Vilification is all the rage these days because it’s such a powerful motivator of the overly emotional. And the New York Post, Alexander Hamilton’s legacy, does it as well as anybody.

Nearly 900 city jailbirds could be celebrating Christmas early courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a plan to quietly free them before the state’s bail-reform law goes into effect next year, The Post has learned.

And if that weren’t enough of a gift, Mayor Bill de Blasio is promising to follow up with even more presents for the lucky accused criminals — by giving them free baseball tickets, movie passes and gift cards to encourage them to return to court, sources familiar with the program said.

“You’re literally rewarding them for committing a crime,’’ said a disgusted senior staffer in Manhattan Criminal Court.

Oh no, all those “jailbirds” could be home for Christmas. Of course, they shouldn’t be in jail in the first place, but for that kid ADA asking for $500 bail for stealing food from a bodega. It’s not that stealing is acceptable, even if they’re poor and hungry. The bodega owner gets to earn a living too, and he does it by selling food, not being forced into charity for the poor. But that $500 might as well be a million to the defendant who hasn’t got a dime, and there’s nothing to be gained by holding him, at great expense, on The Rock.

If he’s coming out anyway, and he is, then what legitimate purpose is served by holding him until the very last day? Every needless day in jail is punishment, and let’s not forget that these are pre-trial detainees, presumptively innocent. It was pointless to put him in, and it’s pointless not to let him out.

But the Post doesn’t rest on the fear that this heinous thief will rape your daughter. There are baseball tickets, and why should they be given a prize for being accused of a crime? That’s just crap thrown in to get people worked up over nothing.

Nowhere did the articles note that only six defendants, out of the nearly 5,000 who go through the city’s “supervised release” programs every year, have ever gotten to go to a baseball game—that it was a one-time event, six months before the law was even set to take effect. And it was a private donor who’d paid for their tickets, not taxpayers. The teens were there as a reward for having attended every one of their court dates, for actively participating in their group therapy sessions and for being responsive to feedback on their behavior.

There is a far more significant issue at hand that gets hidden beneath the Post’s hype and the new law. We’ve shifted from the carceral side of one-size-fits-all to the decarceral side, where we locked up people for whom there was no legitimate reason to impose bail to releasing everyone, even when there is reason to do so.

Before, the judges shirked their duty to exercise sound discretion and told the baby prosecutors “Get real, this guy doesn’t need to be held. ROR.” Now they’re freed of responsibility to do so. When some fail to return, as they will, and a few commit new crimes that make the front page of the Post, there will be a hysterical backlash.

The Post will play it to the hilt, because that’s what the Post does. But when this happens, and it will, it means that we’re caught between “all or nothing” approaches to the system. Blame it on the judges who could have prevented this from happening at any moment, but just didn’t have the guts to do their job.

9 thoughts on ““Jailbirds” Come Home For The Holidays

  1. Boffin

    The function of bail is to assure the beautiful people that they or their loved ones are not going to be subject to the horrors of the carceral state.

    But when woke prosecutors are promising Social Justice and “he’s a good boy from a good family” becomes an aggravating rather than a mitigating factor, then the whole system has to be thrown out. Better that a hundred guilty go free than my little darlin’ gets sent to the holes.

  2. Dave

    Wait, is going to a baseball game supposed to be a reward here, or an additional punishment if you don’t make bail?

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