Money bail is expensive—and not just for the people who have to pay it. In a study released early in 2018, the New York City Comptroller’s office estimated the cost to the city of pretrial detention for people unable to pay money bail at $100 million annually.New York City Office of the Comptroller, The Public Cost of Private Bail: A Proposal to Ban Bail Bonds in NYC (New York: Office of the Comptroller, 2018).
Pretrial detention also has personal costs: the same study found that detained people in the city lose $28 million in wages every year.New York City Office of the Comptroller, The Public Cost of Private Bail: A Proposal to Ban Bail Bonds in NYC (New York: Office of the Comptroller, 2018).
Meanwhile, the bail bond industry extracts between $16 million and $27 million annually from New Yorkers unable to pay bail on their own by charging nonrefundable fees as a percentage of the bail cost.New York City Office of the Comptroller, The Public Cost of Private Bail: A Proposal to Ban Bail Bonds in NYC (New York: Office of the Comptroller, 2018).
In October, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group and several community partners launched an ambitious month-long bail effort, called the Mass Bail Out, to free women and teenagers held at Rikers Island and other city jails.Jeffery Mays, “City Officials Fear Mass Bailout at Rikers Could Endanger Crime Victims,” New York Times, September 21, 2018. Over the course of a month, volunteers and celebrities—including French Montana, rapper Belly, and Taylor Schilling from Orange is the New Black—paid a total of $1.2 million in bail for 105 people.Jeffery Mays, “105 New York City Inmates Freed in Bail Reform Experiment,” New York Times, November 20, 2018; “Celebrities and Volunteers Participate In Mass Bailout Movement,” News 12 The Bronx, October 11, 2018; and Shawn Grant, “Belly and the Hip-Hop Community Rally Around the NYC ‘Mass Bail Out’ Plan,” The Source, October 29, 2018. The Mass Bail Out garnered much attention—and some stinging criticism in the local news—for posting bail primarily for people charged with felony-level offenses, yet many public officials came out in support of the action, including the Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council and Rory Lancman, a candidate in the 2019 Queens District Attorney race.Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council, “NYC Council Progressive Caucus Endorses Mass Bail Out,” October 5, 2018. By the end of the year, only two people of the 105 for whom bail was posted failed to appear at a court date, while more than a hundred women and children were reunited with their families.Mays, “105 New York City Inmates Freed,” 2018.
The Rikers bail out builds on the success of organizations like National Bail Out, launched in May 2017 with the goal of freeing black women from pretrial detention in time for the Mother’s Day weekend.National Bail Out, “Home.” Led by black organizers, National Bail Out has gone on to provide resources and inspiration for community-based bail outs nationwide, and goes beyond merely supplying bail money to engaging and developing the leadership of those released.National Bail Out, “Free Black Mamas Fellowship.” While National Bail Out focuses on the black community—and black women in particular—it provides leadership and resources for other communities, including toolkits for those interested in starting their own community bail out movement.National Bail Out, “Toolkit.”