The vast majority of inmates on the city's sprawling jail complex on Rikers Island are awaiting trial and haven't been found guilty of anything. Many of those inmates are there because they cannot make bail, some languishing for years before they are released. Now officials want to change that system. NY1's Courtney Gross filed this report.
Khalief Browder was never found guilty. Instead, he spent three years on Rikers Island awaiting trial for stealing a backpack, unable to make bail.
It's now suspected that trauma led to his suicide earlier this month.
"Simply put, the bail system as currently administered is broken," says City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
His death is spurring a louder call for bail reform—reform, officials say, that's needed to prevent the poor from being locked up.
They point to statistics like this: in 2013, 87 percent of defendants facing $1,000 or less in cash bail ended up on Rikers unable to pay.
Of those, about half were there until their case was closed.
"We don't want to see someone in jail on Rikers Island simply because they couldn't meet a very modest bail level," Mayor de Blasio said.
Now just about everyone has their own idea on how to change it.
The City Council Speaker says create a bail fund—use city tax dollars to pay bail for people charged with lower level crimes. It's one of her budget priorities.
"Ultimately we are committed to making this happen. And we will find a way to do that," Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito says.
"The bail fund is an option in terms of some of the reforms we want to make. It's not something I am talking to the City Council about in terms of this budget at this moment," says Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The mayor's office is focusing on diverting inmates from Rikers altogether through programs called supervised release.
Other officials want to give more options for paying bail. Instead of just cash, maybe a defendant could use credit.
"Whatever we can do to keep people out of Rikers Island who shouldn't be there—people who are in Rikers cause they cant make $500 bail—is something we need to pursue," says City Councilman Rory Lancman.
"We know there has to be a better system. We think the supervised release is one other potentially strong options. We are willing to look at others," de Blasio says.
So for now the de Blasio administration appears to be focused on supervised release. The fate of these other proposals is a bit unclear.