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Chief judge pushes to change NYC bail system

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in Manhattan on Sept.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in Manhattan on Sept. 29, 2015. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

ALBANY - The state's chief judge announced a series of steps Thursday to reduce the number of people  behind bars in New York City awaiting trials because they can't make bail.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said the initiatives would include requiring justices to review bail conditions and urging judges to consider alternatives to cash bail --  such as imposing electronic monitoring bracelets. He noted that some 50,000 defendants are jailed each year in the five boroughs because they can't make bail.

 "It has resulted in a two-tier system of justice," said Lippman, who is the final months of his tenure as New York's top judge. He has tried more than once to force state lawmakers to revamp the bail system.

"Almost 90 percent of those for whom bail is imposed do not make bail at arraignment, and over half of those defendants remain in jail for the entire duration of their case -- from arraignment to disposition -- without ever being released," he said, calling the current conditions intolerable.

The judge noted that New York, unlike most states, requires judges to consider defendants' risk of flight in determining bail, not their risk to public safety, and money bail is intended to keep people from skipping town and court dates.

In a speech in Manhattan to announce the initiative, Lippman invoked the June suicide of Kalief Browder, who was 16 when he was arrested in the Bronx on suspicion of stealing a backpack and spent three years on Rikers Island before prosecutors dropped their case against him.

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