Jail bail fail
Red tape delays aid to inmates
An ambitious plan to bail out hundreds of women and teens from city jails was meant as a well-intentioned gift — one that’s now wrapped in red tape.
When the idea was announced last month, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group expected to be able to bail as many as 60 people out every day, according to an email to volunteers obtained by the Daily News.
But since it launched last week, the hoped-for deluge has been more like a trickle, thanks in large part to to the Correction Department’s archaic bail-processing system, the group has said.
“They have made clear that they are simply incapable of processing a significant number of bails per day,” the nonprofit said in an email to volunteers Tuesday.
The group had a rude awakening in the first days of its campaign when a volunteer posted bail in the afternoon but the inmate didn’t get out until 2 a.m. — too late to meet with social services.
Now the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group sends volunteers to Rikers Island with bail only between the hours of 9 a.m. and noon — the latest it can spring an inmate and be sure the person can access help.
Each inmate sits down with a social worker from the group or another city charity, who help securing housing, among other issues.
“Our commitment is to do this responsibly,” said Wade McMullen, 35, the group’s managing attorney. “It’s really important to us to ensure the connection to services is seamless.”
The slow schedule means some volunteers set to deliver bail money — by law, bail can be paid only by an individual — have nothing to do.
On Thursday, the group would not specify how many inmates have been released.
McMullen said “dozens of people” put forward by Legal Aid, advocacy groups and public defenders have left jail due to the program.
The Kennedy charity has raised more than $3 million.
But criminal justice experts say it would likely take more than $30 million to bail out 500 women and teens.
McMullen said there’s no number that defines success.
“We don’t want to set an artificial goal about numbers to dictate mechanics,” he said. “We are showing there’s an alternative to putting a human being in a cage pretrial.”
The de Blasio administration has assisted the initiative, approving a center outside Rikers where volunteers greet inmates with cell phones, Metro Cards or transportation to housing.
City Hall spokeswoman Natalie Grybauskas denied there were issues with the bail system — but it did request no bail-outs past 6 p.m. to avoid night releases.
“No one will be turned away from a bail window if they have the money to pay someone’s bail, period.”
The human rights group initially planned to bail out 60 people each day, according to an email to volunteers.