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De Blasio: $17.8M program to keep poor defendants who can't pay bail out of jail

The Rikers Island jail complex stands in the

The Rikers Island jail complex stands in the foreground with the New York skyline in the background is shown on June 20, 2014. Credit: AP

Arrestees accused of low-level crimes in New York City won't need to pay bail under a $17.8 million "supervised release" program unveiled Wednesday to divert thousands of poor defendants from jail.

The initiative by Mayor Bill de Blasio's office is expected to help about 3,000 people annually. They will be released and supervised in their neighborhoods rather than held at Rikers Island Correctional Facility.

"There is a very real human cost to how our criminal justice system treats people while they wait for trial," de Blasio said in a statement. "Money bail is a problem because -- as the system currently operates in New York -- some people are being detained based on the size of their bank account, not the risk they pose."

The city began requesting proposals from nonprofit organizations to administer the supervised release. Examples of supervision include checking in regularly in person and via text message.

The program is funded by $4 million in city money and $13.8 million in asset forfeiture money from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.'s office.

It is separate from the $1.4 million City Council-created bail fund, which has been met with skepticism from NYPD Commissioner William Bratton and the Queens and Bronx district attorneys.

Bratton told reporters Wednesday that an NYPD study found "relatively few people" do not make bail.

He added of the most common low-level misdemeanors: "I would not be interested in using government money to bail out somebody that was just engaged in a domestic violence incident or had just been arrested for drunk driving."

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said the mayor's supervised release program will work "hand in hand" with the bail fund.

In a statement, Bratton applauded the mayor's initiative for "more accurately assessing public safety risk and the supervision necessary" to keep those released "from re-entering the criminal justice system."

About 14 percent of those arrested and charged, or 45,500 people annually, are detained on bail at their first court appearance. Most of those pose a high risk of flight, but some are accused of petty crimes and can't afford the nominal bail set, according to the mayor's office.

With Anthony M. DeStefano

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