Democratic Attorney General Nominee Letitia “Tish” James Outlines Plan to Eliminate Cash Bail in New York State

NEW YORK -- Democratic Attorney General nominee Letitia “Tish” James today released her plan to eliminate cash bail in New York State.

Highlights of her plan include introducing program legislation to end cash bail and replace it with a more just system that does not punish poverty. Until that legislation is passed, Tish will use the powers of the Attorney General’s office -- from enforcing consumer protections to providing technical support through the Charities Bureau to non-profits who seek to provide bail without fees -- to lessen the impact of the current, unjust system. 

“The law can be a great equalizer and justice shouldn’t see color, income, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, or health status. But right now, our system of cash bail criminalizes poverty. The scales of justice have been tilted against some New Yorkers for too long -- and we must make them equal. As Attorney General, I will use every tool at my disposal to put the justice back into our criminal justice system,” said Democratic Attorney General nominee Letitia “Tish” James.

The United States is one of two countries in the world that uses cash bail in criminal cases -- a practice that effectively criminalizes poverty. 

Currently, 75% of people in New York City jails and 60% of those in New York State jails outside of New York City have not been convicted of a crime. They are incarcerated merely because they cannot afford bail. That means thousands of individuals, often charged with minor crimes and who pose no risk of flight or discernable public danger -- and who are constitutionally presumed innocent -- are forced to languish in jail because they are poor.

The commercial bail bond industry, a direct byproduct of the cash bail system, often makes matters worse. Bondsmen are legally allowed to charge a non-refundable fee that can reach up to 10% of the bail that is set -- so even if those who can scrape together the fee diligently attend every hearing, they will never see that money again. 

In New York, the bail bond industry effectively syphons tens of millions of dollars of wealth from poor -- mostly minority -- communities every year, while forcing those out on bail to live in fear.

Several other states -- including Alaska, New Mexico, California, Kentucky, and New Jersey -- have already moved to end or curtail the reliance on cash bail. New York must not fall behind, and should dismantle its illogical money bail system, abolish the predatory for-profit bail industry, and end the costly, damaging over-incarceration that is the inevitable result of these institutions.

As Attorney General, Tish James will introduce program legislation to end cash bail and replace it with a more just system that does not punish poverty and does not discriminate against people of color. Under this system, pretrial release would be the default presumption, and the only reasons for requiring bail would be risk of flight or failure to appear, supported by evidence.

Until that legislation is passed, she will use the powers of the Attorney General’s office to make the current system less burdensome, including by:

  • Cracking down on rampant illegality in the bail bond industry by investigating bond firms that charge extortionate fees above the legal limit and that engage in violent or unnecessary apprehensions as consumer protection issues.
     

  • Working to support charitable bail organizations by using the Attorney General’s role as regulator of New York State charities to provide technical support to charitable organizations that put up funds for bail without charging fees.