By Gina Kim
NEW YORK, NY – The past year, pretrial numbers on Rikers Island surged – creating a crisis – because the city’s five District Attorneys sought bail in almost every case, according to a letter signed by 14 New York City elected officials who urged the DAs cease their cash bail practices, and halt the flow of prisoners subject to potential death sentences.
The open letter details how most people incarcerated at Rikers are held because of bail costs, even though bail costs reportedly must be set at the “least restrictive means to ensure a person’s return to court” while remaining “sensitive to a person’s ability to pay.” Otherwise, the accused becomes incarcerated for their case’s pendency.
Several instances of previous bail requests are cited in the letter, including one multi-thousand dollar misdemeanor bail held towards a homeless New Yorker unable to pay even $100 dollars in bail.
The offices’ refusal to consent to release of persons “who should not remain incarcerated,” as well as their violation of bail law helped aggravate the Rikers crisis, the officials say.
Of the signatories, some visited Rikers in recent weeks. They testified to the institution’s deteriorating conditions.
“People are dying regularly,” they say, “an unprecedented crisis prevails.” Officials go on to address lack of food and necessities, overcrowding, sanitation concerns, and chronic staff absenteeism leading to severe neglect.
Additional concerns were raised regarding the facility’s medical and mental health departments, as two officials witnessed suicide attempts during their visit.
Although the letter acknowledges other contributing forces beyond the offices’ domain, such as the industrial complex’s COVID situation and understaffed conditions, officials continue to designate most responsibility on reckless bail requests.
The letter charges the District Attorneys’ decision to “send New Yorkers to their potential deaths” as a “callous disregard for human life,” stating that thousands of inmates “endure torture every day.”
New York officials continue to demand the DA offices consent to bail modifications, and call for the release of those at risk of COVID or severe mental health decomposition.
A press conference and rally was held this week, where the signatories delivered the letter outside Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s office.
Among the state legislator signatures are Senator Allessandra Biaggi, Senator Jessica Ramos, Senator Julia Salazar,
Senator Robert Jackson, Assemblymember Khaleel Anderson, Assemblymember Kenny Burgos, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, Assemblymember Jessica Gonzalez-Royas, Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes, Assemblymember Dan Quart, Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest and Councilmember Brad Lander.