June, 18, 2015
by Paul Notice
After seven years at Riker’s Island, Carlos Montero is still waiting for his day in court. Unable to pay his bail, the courts forced then 16 yr old Montero to await his trial in jail. Montero isn’t alone. Many attribute 22 yr old Kalief Browder’s recent suicide to the three years he spent at Riker’s waiting for trial, much of it spent in solitary confinement. The New Yorker recently uncovered footage confirming Browder’s claims of abuse from inmates and prison guards.
According to Nick Turner, Nick Turner, executive director of the Vera Institute, about 31% of non-felony defendants in NYC are unable to pay bails set at $500, or less. “"We are punishing people for their poverty,” Turner says. “When we looked at the data, we found 75 percent of the population of people in jail are awaiting trail and are there for nonviolent offenses.”
According to the New York Times, over 1,500 people are spending more than a year in jail at Rikers, waiting to go to trial. About 400 of those inmates have spent more than two years in jail without a conviction.
Mayor Bill DeBlasio and NY State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman proposed a plan to give these people their day in court. However, it only includes a set court date for those whose offenses are not subject to plea deals with prosecutors.
To be successful, however, the plan must involve the cooperation of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and police officers. Trial delays from all ends of the spectrum result in many these defendants spending time in jail before even awaiting trial.