In 2009, the New York City Criminal Justice Agency (CJA) began piloting supervised release in Queens as an alternative to monetary bail and pretrial detention for defendants age 18 and older facing either misdemeanor or non-violent felony charges. This pilot was extended to Manhattan in 2013 and subsequently citywide through a competitive RFP process in 2016. Through this process, CASES was selected by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to assume operation of expanded supervised release services in Manhattan. Since April 2016, CASES has diverted more than 800 men and women from pre-trial detention to supervised release—helping to significantly reduce the daily population at Rikers Island.
Justice System Background
The Supervised Release Program strives to prevent the unnecessary detention of defendants who are unable to pay bail while awaiting trial. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice found that 34% of felony defendants across the country were detained pre-trial because of an inability to pay bail.1 However, in New York City in 2013, the Vera Institute of Justice found that more than 50% of inmates (mostly charged with misdemeanors) were held in detention until the resolution of their case because of an inability to afford a bail of $2,500.00 or less.2
As CASES’ Director of Manhattan SRP Giles Malieckal says, “What we’ve found is what we expected to find–many people are detained simply due to poverty and an inability to afford even what might seem like a very small amount of bail.”
Recently, courts have ruled that the current bail structure which allows for the detention of an individual due to an inability to pay bail violates an individual’s 14th Amendment Rights under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clause (Varden v. City of Clanton (2015); Jones v. City of Clanton (2015); Cooper v. City of Donthan (2015); Rodriguez v. Providence Cmty Corr Inc (2015); Walker v. City of Calhoun (2016)).3
The Negative Impact of Pre-Trial Detention
Pre-trial detention not only has the potential to violate an individual’s civil rights, it has concrete and often long-term negative consequences. Time away from work or school can result in structural disadvantages such as loss of income or falling behind in school. In addition, the stigma related to incarceration, even if an individual is never ultimately convicted of a crime, can impact long-term success in educational and employment fields. Meanwhile, although the emotional, behavioral, and mental health consequences are less immediately tangible, they can have devastating effects.
One well-known incidence of pre-trial detention involved Kalief Browder, a 16-year old detained for three years on Rikers Island beginning in 2010 while he awaited trial for stealing a backpack. Mr. Browder stated his innocence and refused to plead guilty to a lesser charge but remained detained because his family could not afford his $3,000 bail. Over the course of his three years at Rikers while awaiting trial, Mr. Browder spent about 800 days in solitary confinement. He was eventually released after all charges against him were dismissed. In 2015, likely struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, Mr. Browder committed suicide. Describing the impact of his time at Rikers in an interview after his release, he said, “I’m not at all right. I’m messed up.”4
Spending any time on Rikers Island (a week or more) can result in long-term negative impacts on an individual’s mental and emotional health, has an impact on one’s practical success in social institutions, such as school, and makes one more susceptible to arrest after release.5 Time incarcerated not only has traumatic impacts on the individual arrested but also for family, who are often required to cope with the loss of a family member who contributes to the stability of the household, and may be stressed by invasive searches and controlled, monitored visits with their loved ones.6 These negative repercussions impact individuals who have not been found guilty of any crime–in 2010, over 85% of the Rikers Island population was pre-trial detainees.7 The length of time people wait for disposition varies. Like Mr. Browder, some people can be detained for up to three years awaiting a resolution.8
Expanding Supervised Release
In 2015, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) expanded Supervised Release as part of a $17.8 million effort to reduce pre-trial detention and thereby reduce the daily population at Rikers Island.9 Mr. Malieckal, the Director of CASES’ Manhattan Supervised Release Program (SRP), describes SRP as a way to “achieve a more fair application of justice.” A central goal is to provide an alternative to monetary bail that is based on an assessment of a person’s risk for future felony arrest as opposed to their ability to pay bail.
SRP uses the Risk Need Responsivity (RNR) model, which matches the level of services provided to the risk of reoffending. This model begins with the assessment of criminogenic needs, with the results guiding program service recommendations. SRP is a “light-touch” program, requiring routine check-ins via phone or in person to ensure a participant complies with court obligations. CASES staff alert judges if an SRP client is missing for more than 48 hours, with judges deciding if they would like to continue Supervised Release or issue a warrant for the individual’s arrest. The program helps participants to fulfill court requirements, engage in pro-social community activities (e.g., education and employment), and avoid recidivism. Services include risk assessment, community supervision, court reporting, and referrals to ongoing support and/or treatment providers in the community.
Initial SRP Outcomes
The SRP expansion has been a citywide success. Through early 2017, 91% of Supervised Release clients citywide had attended all required court appearances and 93% had had no new felony arrest.10 Mr. Maliekal said that beyond these numbers, SRP has helped participants to access and engage in services in the community that are specifically tailored to their unique risks and needs (e.g., mental health treatment, employment placement, housing, etc.). CASES’ Manhattan SRP diverts about five people every day from pre-trial detention. The program operates six days a week and includes intakes from night-time court dockets.
CASES’ SRP provides participants access to a variety of CASES’ in-house services. These include the State-licensed mental health treatment provided by CASES at our Nathaniel Clinic in Harlem–a clinic specializing in outpatient treatment for people with mental illness who have become involved in the justice system. CASES’ SRP also includes therapeutic groups and a trauma-informed treatment group using the evidence-based “Seeking Safety” curriculum.11 Participants also have access to a Licensed Nurse Practitioner providing general education on wellness and nutrition and answering personal questions regarding participant medical concerns. SRP staff additionally connect participants to a citywide network of service and treatment providers who can provide ongoing support and opportunities for SRP participants.
Next Steps for SRP
Supervised Release has assisted in reducing the population on Rikers Island through a more constitutional alternative to pre-trial detention. SRP spares individuals the trauma that often accompanies detention at Rikers Island while also enabling participants to avoid disruptions to their family lives and/or education/employment. The program has diverted more than 600 men and women from pre-trial detention through the first ten months of FY 2017 and is well on pace to divert more than 800 in the coming year.