On January 1, 2020, criminal justice reforms that were years in the making went into effect in New York State. Most visible of these reforms was the elimination of cash bail as an option for all but the most serious charges.
Historically, bail has been assigned by courts to ensure a defendant can be released back to the community and will return for all required appearances during the pendency of their case. In practice, however, bail has disproportionately impacted people who are economically disadvantaged—not being able to afford bail means being held in jail while awaiting their day in court, while those with the financial means can walk free. This pretrial detention can last for months: in FY2019, the average length of stay in NYC Department of Corrections facilities was 72.8 days.1
New York’s Bail Elimination Act sought to correct this inherent economic disparity in bail and pretrial detention. The law allows those who would have previously been detained—primarily at Rikers Island—solely because they could not afford bail to remain in the community. These individuals, consistent with disparities elsewhere in the criminal justice system, are overwhelmingly Black and Latinx. This means people can return to their jobs and families without a potentially life-changing disruption. It can also mean connection to mental health, employment, and housing services that can reduce the likelihood they’ll have future justice involvement.
CASES has operated effective bail alternative programs in Manhattan since 2016. Among the approximately 5,000 people served to date, more than 90% have attended all required court appointments, with nearly 90% also avoiding any new felony arrest. Since 2016, these programs at CASES have been led by Giles Malieckal, CASES’ Senior Director of Pretrial Services. Giles, a clinically trained social worker, oversees the continuum that is Pretrial Services, starting in the courtroom and continuing into the “menu” of services clients can access in CASES’ four borough-based offices and via mobile program services delivered to clients in their homes and communities. Below, he explains the function of Pretrial Services and how CASES factors into it.
What is “Pretrial Services”?
Pretrial Services is essentially any services we can provide for court-involved individuals whose cases have not gone to trial. This is for people who have been arrested, have been accused of a crime in a formal complaint, and have been officially arraigned. I describe it as services we provide to the court and that cater to the individual. For the court, we check in with participants and help them to learn ways of avoiding rearrest and recidivism. Our staff are primarily interested in the services we provide for the individual, which starts with a clinical assessment. All participants receive a psychosocial assessment that covers all life areas to determine if there are needs we can focus on. I like to think of this period as “pre-counseling,” where we give insights and help clients understand areas that we flagged on the assessment. We work with participants to develop an action plan on how to work on those areas. Our staff not only provide referrals but are also available to escort participants to their appointments. Together, we engage participants by reaching an agreement with them on what they want and need to work on and help them reach their goals.
What’s the difference between Pretrial Services and Supervised Release?
Essentially, the change is a matter of terminology. The main difference is that CASES has been certified as a provider of pretrial services. With the new bail reform legislation, we will have lots of new participants who have different issues. A lot of restrictions are being lifted that previously did not allow certain people to have access to this type of program. So, there will be a shift in our participant profile, with varying cases involving such things as domestic violence and mental health needs. Overall, we will be working with people whose situations may be more challenging to engage than Supervised Release previously allowed.
What does it mean for CASES to provide Pretrial Services?
I think it means that Pretrial Services will serve as a conduit to many other programs and services that we have at CASES. This is mainly because people will be introduced to the agency earlier in their court involvement. For us to introduce this program to the menu of our other offerings means a vast expansion in our staff, giving employees the opportunity to work at different sites with different participants. Our staff, who are already highly skilled and trained, will have more opportunities to exercise their strengths.
What are your plans as director of the program?
I want to continue what’s worked since Supervised Release began in March 2016, which is a person-centered, non-judgmental team approach in which participants are not reliant on one individual. With Pretrial Services, we are interested in people having access to an entire team of resources. At its core, the program is about providing services that are less invasive and less disruptive. What we’re aiming to do at CASES is balance what the court obligates us to do while also ensuring that participants don’t have more negative outcomes.
As the director, I’m also excited about the opportunity to provide more specialized services. We have staff with specialty areas and clinical backgrounds, some of whom will be able to reach people in the community more successfully. Having this kind of reach will certainly raise the profile of the agency and position CASES with stakeholders more effectively.
We’re also looking for ways to better engage youth, possibly through an art program. Our youth are very talented and have a lot of skills; they just aren’t easily marketable to employers. Our program staff are trying to help our young people understand that they can express themselves and explore their artistic interests while also having a backup plan.
How is Pretrial Services a step toward a more just criminal justice system?
This is an opportunity for people to avail themselves of basic human rights. New Yorkers will no longer feel pressured to do something or make deals to get out of jail. I’ve been working directly with a client for almost two and half years now and he’s very frustrated. He had a trial, then a mistrial, and they want to try him again. With pretrial services people will feel that they can win and overcome a system that has traditionally coerced them to negotiate their liberties in damaging ways.