New Year's Day in New York marks the end of cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
“It’s about – for the first time – us handing the people back over to the community and them getting the services that they need out there," said Hazel Jennings, the city Department of Correction chief of department.
On Rikers Island, detainees whose alleged offenses are no longer bail-eligible have been released in batches since October in anticipation of the New Year, when a state bail reform law will go into effect.
“We have at this point approximately 50 to 60 people left to be discharged on January 1,” Jennings said.
The city tells NY1 exclusively that its jail population is at a record low of 6,000 detainees, down from 7,700 this time last year and 22,000 in 1991.
The city has been lining up resources for those released – from housing aid to mental health care.
“That’s our obligation," said Francis Torres, assistant commissioner at the Department of Correction. "We cannot talk about decreasing recidivism if we don’t put a comprehensive discharge plan."
The city has partnered with anti-violence groups, many of which are headed by those who were formerly incarcerated.
“We know you just left, we know what it’s like, you don’t want to be here, so let us help you not go in that direction," said Shanduke McPhatter, founder of Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Change.
Proponents say the bail reform law – passed in April – spares people from languishing behind bars simply because they can’t afford bail. But opponents say the law goes too far and prioritizes the rights of criminals over those of victims.
“If I stalk you, if I’m stalking you, it’s a nonviolent crime," said Elias Husamudeen, president of Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association. "And even if the police arrest me, because of bail reform, the judge cannot set a bail for me.”
City officials say the record-low population at Rikers is due to judges getting a jump start on the law by ordering supervised release rather than bail. They also point to the city's pretrial and diversion programs.