Following an incident with his partner that resulted in a brief jail stay, Thomas* became a participant in CASES’ Manhattan Supervised Release Program (MSRP). At his arraignment, he’d faced three choices: pay bail he couldn’t afford, stay on the notorious Rikers Island to await trial, or receive treatment through CASES, so Thomas chose MSRP.
CASES’ Manhattan Supervised Release Program is intended to prevent legally innocent people from sitting in jail while they await trial—often for months or even years—just because they cannot afford to pay bail. The price of detention is serious—spending time in jail can be traumatizing and disruptive to education, employment, and relationships. CASES’ MSRP helps alleviate the economic burden of bail, makes sure participants attend all of their court dates, and connects them with essential services, like mental health care and substance use treatment. Not only does participating in MSRP keep New Yorkers out of a sometimes lethal jail system, it also improves community safety by helping them avoid rearrest. In FY21, one-third of CASES Pretrial program participants were charged with a bail-eligible offense during arraignment. These participants were actually more likely to exit the program without a felony rearrest or warrant for failure to appear in court than those with other charges. More simply, people who receive bail-eligible charges and are enrolled in supervised release have better overall outcomes than people with more serious charges. The data demonstrates that alternatives to incarceration work.
Thomas feels lucky that his time in jail was brief before he entered MSRP. “I mean, it’s kind of scary because you’re just kind of waiting for them to call your name. For me, in my case, it was less than two days, so that was good.” Even though the stay was not long, Thomas still feels that his experience was harmful to his mental health. “Those experiences, any sort of experience of, you know, being detained, with cops and police involved is very traumatic to the mind.” Thomas’s experience is far from unique. More than half of the 5,500 individuals held in NYC jails have a mental illness, many of which are caused or exacerbated by the trauma of incarceration.
However, there was hope after detention. He found that the ongoing support he received from the MSRP team was crucial to his progress and healing. He started the program in April of 2022 and had three check-ins per month (twice in-person and once over the phone) until his program ended in July. He thought the staff were open, kind, and helped him have a positive outlook on his situation. Furthermore, Thomas found his regular check-ins with the MSRP team immensely impactful. When he spoke to someone over Zoom or in person, they asked how his life was going as he returned to a sense of normalcy. “Sometimes there was a simple phone call, just to, you know, make sure I was doing okay and socializing and going to work.”
CASES Manhattan Supervised Release Program extends beyond check-ins, though. If a participant is feeling depressed, they are referred to a therapist. If they have a substance use issue or other medical problem, they’re referred to a program or a doctor. People that need clothing and food also receive aid through MSRP. The range of support participants receive reflects the comprehensive approach CASES’ programs take to assess the unique needs of each individual and provide them with essential services all while engaging them in plans for future opportunity and success. Because of CASES’ referral services, Thomas was able to find a therapist who supported his healing journey.
CASES’ MSRP also encourages community support. Staff encouraged Thomas to lean on his loved ones when he was having a difficult time, motivating him to talk to his family members about how challenging his experience was and allowing them to lift him up. Today, Thomas better understands the power of support and connection, that sharing your experiences with those who have not experienced the trauma you have allows you to “level up.”
Thomas also faced some challenges as an MSRP participant. In addition to the difficulties of healing from the distress detention caused, Thomas had to balance his mandated supervision with a demanding work schedule. When he got off work at 5 P.M., he rushed to make the latest appointments CASES had available. Although balancing the program with work was a struggle, Thomas felt that the consequence of missing an appointment—a mandated report to the judge affiliated with his case— kept him accountable for his progress.
Thomas has improved significantly since his detention. He says that he is doing a lot better now. He has been able to get back to working regularly, enjoying his hobbies, and spending time with his family.
As Thomas reflected on his own detention and treatment, he also had advice to impart to others with criminal legal system involvement. He stressed taking the journey step by step because, while there is hope that things will improve, the process is not easy. “I would encourage taking it one day at a time” Thomas says, “because, you know, it is very hard, especially after such a trauma, to get back to your normal life. And it could be something that alters you. But if you break it down into more manageable goals, it could be achievable.”
For more information on CASES’ pretrial programs visit: https://www.cases.org/pretrial-services/
*Not his real name.