Charitable Justice

In 90 days, a NY law will come into effect allowing charities to post up to $2,000 bail for those charged with misdemeanors. Sen. Gustavo Rivera, Bronx Democrat and sponsor, says that $2k is an incredible obstacle for working-class folks who can’t afford to diddle around waiting for the court to prove them innocent—so they plead guilty in order to avoid losing jobs, child custody, or getting evicted.

A December 2010 report pretty much confirms the worst of these fears: for nonfelony cases (e.g. smoking marijuana in public, hopping turnstiles), the overwhelming majority of defendants set for $1,000 bail or less were unable to pay and were sent to fester in jail for an average of two weeks. In the years since this depressing report of working-class injustice, a pilot project with the Bronx Freedom Fund tested posting similar bails: 95 percent of defendants returned for every court date and half of the cases were either dismissed or resulted in no convictions.

Misdemeanors in NY state:
Cemetery desecration in the second degree
Consensual sodomy
False advertising
Fortune telling
Hazing in the first degree
Issuing a bad check
Making graffiti
Loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution
Obscenity in the third degree
Refusing to aid a peace or police officer
Self-abortion in the second degree
Unauthorized use of a computer
Unlawful assembly

(Photo: Julia Manzerova/Flickr)