New York, NY — The New York City Council Progressive Caucus is formally announcing its endorsement of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Mass Bail Out Action, which will free women and young people who are jailed in New York City for the simple fact that they cannot afford to pay bail. The Mass Bail Out Action is a collaborative effort made up of grassroots groups and formerly incarcerated people, supported by over 30 criminal justice and re-entry organizations, to highlight the criminalization of poverty through the money bail system.
The Caucus’ support of Mass Bail Out comes from the understanding that our current bail system criminalizes poverty and undermines the American principal of “innocent until proven guilty,” demonstrated by the fact that 79% of people incarcerated in New York jails have not been convicted of a crime. The state’s current system of cash bail violates basic notions of fairness and leads to stark racial disparities and mass inequality in the criminal justice system, as 89% of people incarcerated at Rikers are Black and/or Latinx. New Yorkers who cannot afford to post bail are paying with their freedom, which can have devastating impacts on their families and communities. The inability to pay bail can cause individuals to lose their jobs, housing, or custody of their children, while those with the financial means to post bail are able to walk free. The Caucus combats the notion that the inability to pay bail is equivalent to a conviction; “innocent until proven guilty” should apply to all New Yorkers, not just the wealthy.
The Mass Bail Out is a historic three-week action to pay the bail for hundreds of women and 16- and 17-year olds detained at Rikers Island and the Horizon Juvenile Detention Center. Staff from the Mass Bail Out and partner organizations will meet with each bailout recipient before bail is paid to create a support plan and coordinate community-based services. These plans range from simply reminding the individual of their next court date to coordinating housing, medical treatment, transportation, and more. Mass Bail Out has also set up a 24-hour community “landing pad” in Queens as a meeting location for families and place to coordinate services and provide care kits, including MetroCards and prepaid phones.
“No one should be in jail because they are poor,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus. “The cash bail system does not work and a two-tiered system of justice that allows only those who can afford to pay to be released is unacceptable in a progressive city like New York. The Robert F Kennedy Human Rights group should be recognized for the work they are doing to bring more fairness to the justice system here in New York City.”
“Bail is one of the most egregious examples of our broken criminal justice system,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Vice-Chair of the Progressive Caucus. “What bail does is link criminality with poverty, and the result is that thousands of people – predominantly people of color – are being locked up simply because they are too poor to post bail. This is not a system that conditions a person’s freedom on the truth. It is a system that conditions a person’s freedom on money. Not only does this make a mockery of the principle ‘innocent until proven guilty’, but it is unsustainable both fiscally and morally. The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Mass Bail Out Action will help shed light on this injustice and take steps to reverse it.”
“The mass bailout highlights the need for a conversation about bail and pre-trial detention in New York City and across the country. The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation is shining a bright light on the disparities that exist in the bail system today and historically. It is my hope that this leads to a statewide effort to reform the bail system.” said Council Member Keith Powers, Vice-Chair of the Progressive Caucus.
“Allowing people who have neither been tried or convicted to languish in jail violates the spirit of the Constitution,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres, Member of the Progressive Caucus. “Pretrial incarceration has become the penalty for poverty, for mental illness, and for blackness.”
“No one should have their right to presumed innocence stripped of them because of their economic status,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso, Member of the Progressive Caucus. “The Robert F. Kennedy’s Mass Bail Out will bring justice to 500 women and children who have unfairly been stuck in our prison system, and I am proud to be a part of this action alongside my Progressive Caucus colleagues. I hope that this is the beginning of a conversation to bring about comprehensive reforms to our City’s bail and prison system.”
“Poverty is not a crime, which is why we need bail reform now to ensure a fairer and more equal justice system,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin, Member of the Progressive Caucus. “This action is a welcome step – particularly for the women, teenagers and their families who have been caught in the system for too long. I am proud to join my Council colleagues in praising the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group for this humane and courageous effort.”
“No one — especially the most vulnerable among us — should be trapped in jail simply because they cannot afford bail. It is a travesty that incarceration is often simply a question of means — this is an incredibly antiquated approach to criminal justice. I am proud to join the Progressive Caucus in endorsing the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Mass Bail Out Action,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Member of the Progressive Caucus.
“Our bail system is in desperate need of reform,” said Council Member Stephen Levin, Member of the Progressive Caucus. “Too many individuals are separated from families, lose employment, and are subject to needless trauma all because they happen to be poor. This is a great injustice that perpetuates inequalities around race and income. I fully support the mission of the Mass Bail Out Action to begin to right these wrongs.”
“It is appalling that hundreds of women and teenagers, predominantly from communities of color, are forced to sit in jail for prolonged periods of time simply because they cannot afford bail. This bail-out is a good start, but we will not successfully decriminalize poverty until we fully eliminate cash bail, guarantee speedy trials, and close Rikers Island once and for all,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, Member of the Progressive Caucus.
“Our criminal justice system is in a sad state of affairs when people are going to jail simply because they cannot pay the bail that a well-off individual who committed the same crime can afford. The fact that Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is taking bold action with their Mass Bailout Action should be a sign to our leaders in Albany that now is the time to end cash bail and create a system that values safety and rehabilitation over the size of one’s wallet,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera, Member of the Progressive Caucus.
“The mass bailout effort is exposing the blatant unfairness of our bail system and how it punishes people for their poverty. It was an honor for me to take part in the first bailout on Monday, where we posted bail in Brooklyn for a woman who was stuck in custody solely because she could not afford to buy her freedom. I commend Kerry Kennedy and the RFK Human Rights organization for spearheading this remarkable campaign, and look forward to supporting it in the weeks ahead,” said Council Member Rory Lancman.
The Progressive Caucus is committed to continual decarceration in our city and stands in solidarity with service providers, movement leaders, grassroots, and advocacy organizations in the fight against racialized policing and mass incarceration. The Caucus commends the Mass Bail Out Action for taking important steps to highlight vital strategies in reducing the city’s jail population, the need to close rikers, and the inherent injustice of the classist cash-bail system.
In the past, the Caucus has introduced legislation like the Right to Know Act and supported and joined advocacy around the #CloseRikers campaign as well as a campaign to support fair wages for the incarcerated as advocated by organizers of the 2018 prison strike. As evidenced in the Caucus’ support for this campaign and overall criminal justice reform, our members are invested in reimagining what true justice and accountability can look like in New York City – and how to provide support and re-entry services to those affected by the criminal justice system, and as well as increasing police accountability and transparency. We believe the Mass Bail Out Action represents an important step in highlighting the critical movement towards a more just New York City.