hands clenching bars

Bail is Broken

In April 2019, New York State passed sweeping criminal justice legislation limiting the use of money bail and reforming our evidence sharing and speedy trial laws. Trinity worked with a coalition of interfaith partners, advocates, directly impacted people and legislators in pushing to end money bail with our #BailisBroken campaign. 

The inclusion of Bail Reform in the New York State budget is a crucial turning point in the fight to end the unjust practice of cash bail not just in our state, but across the country

The Rev. Winnie Varghese, Senior Priest of Justice and Reconciliation at Trinity Church

We are pleased that Albany has decided to stand with New Yorkers who have had their jobs and families taken away for the inability to raise just a few hundred dollars. Advocates, directly impacted people, and legislators have shown great leadership throughout this process, but this is not the end. We must continue to work towards a system that broadly doesn’t discriminate against the poor and people of color. The religious community is looking forward to real change this year.

The Rev. Winnie Varghese joins Rabbi Stephanie Kolin of Central Synagogue and Rabbi Rachel Timoner of Congregation Beth Elohim in celebrating this policy win and committing to the ongoing work of ending mass incarceration. Read the full letter here.

After a person is arrested, they go before a judge who determines whether they are held behind bars, whether bail is set, or if they are allowed to go home while preparing for their day in court. When money bail is set, if a person can’t afford it, they must stay in jail until their court date.

No one should be held in jail simply because they cannot afford to buy their freedom. Over 16,000 people are in jail in New York State on any given day-- pre-trial. Overwhelmingly this is because they cannot afford their bail. A system that determines freedom based on the size of a person’s bank account is a broken system. Poverty is not, and should not be, a crime.

Trinity Church Wall Street is working with our partners and supporters to ensure that bail reform becomes state law this year. Here’s why we believe this is the morally right thing to do:

  • Money bail creates a two-tiered justice system. While the wealthy can pay bail and go free, working class and poor New Yorkers are left to suffer behind bars while they wait for their day in court. Many lose jobs, housing, or custody of their children without ever having been convicted of anything.
  • Our current bail system disproportionately affects people of color and the poor. Nearly 90 percent of the jail population in NYC is Black or Latinx.
  • Imprisoning people before their trial, denying people their basic presumption of innocence, and completely disconnecting the accused from their families and communities is inhumane. It denies people their basic rights.
  • Today, NYC’s jail population is under 8,000 – about half of what it was in the 1990s. Crime is at historic lows in our city and across the nation. A higher jail population does not equal safer communities.
  • As a system created to ensure people show up for their court dates, bail doesn’t statistically affect outcomes. Instead, studies have shown that simple reminders, such as phone calls or text messages, can substantially increase the likelihood of a person appearing for their court date.

We must reform New York’s bail laws and end money bail. Gov. Cuomo has taken a significant first step toward meaningful reform in his budget proposal, but we must ensure the final legislation confronts the vast inequities of our justice system and drastically reduces the number of people held in jail. Your voice will be especially important in the weeks and months ahead to enact bold reforms to New York State's money bail laws.