NYC Council Votes to Eliminate City-Imposed Bail Payment Fees: Statement

NEW YORK—APRIL 9, 2019—The New York City Council voted to approve Intro No. 1199 today, a bill introduced by Councilmembers Keith Powers and Rory Lancman that eliminates bail fees imposed by New York City. The City currently charges a 2% fee for online bail payments and an 8% fee for bail payments made by credit card at a Department of Corrections facility, on top of any fees a person pays to a commercial bail bondsman. This change leaves in place a 3% credit card bail payment fee imposed on bail payments made in person at a courthouse by the Office of Court Administration, which is not under City control.

In December 2018, the Zero Profits Coalition submitted testimony supporting Intro. 1199, noting that these harmful fees stem from opaque JPay contracts with the City that aim to profiteer off of people trying to pay bail.

The following statement can be attributed to Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, Color of Change, Fines and Fees Justice Center, Jails Action Coalition, JustLeadershipUSA, The Luke Law Firm, Mental Health Project at the Urban Justice Center, Shalom United Missions International, Visionary V, VOCAL-NY, and Worth Rises.

“We welcome the City Council’s passage of legislation to eliminate yet another mechanism that extracts revenue from New York’s most marginalized communities. Among the thousands of people who are incarcerated in New York City jails, 88% are Black and/or Latinx, and nearly all experience deep poverty. Even though we oppose all criminal legal fees, it is particularly egregious that these bail fees are only charged to people who have not been convicted of a crime. While Intro. 1199 does not eliminate the two-tiered justice system that cash bail creates, the bill would mitigate some of the financial inequity caused by that system. We urge Mayor de Blasio to sign Intro. 1199 into law.

That said, we must acknowledge that this necessary reform does not go far enough. We ask the City Council to eliminate all criminal legal fees in New York City, including those imposed by the City itself such as the DWI probation fee and diversion fees imposed by programs contracted by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. We also ask the Council to ensure that the City ends the use of fees assessed by private entities, including diversion fees imposed by contractors of the District Attorney’s office and the array of fees and inflated costs charged to people incarcerated in City jails. For example, when incarcerated people and their families deposit money into commissary accounts to support their basic needs, JPay charges a fee of at least 20% of the deposited funds. The Council should also require that the Department of Corrections make public all of its contracts with private entities that provide services to people who are incarcerated in City jails. Contracts with private entities must explicitly prohibit profiteering through fees, markups, interest or other costs imposed on people who are incarcerated and their communities. This private profiteering must end.

We look forward to continuing to work with the Council to abolish fees so that New York City’s criminal legal system is funded equitably.”

Fines and Fees Justice Center Co-Director Joanna Weiss said, “Bail payment fees are merely one criminal justice fee among countless others that burden indigent and low-income New Yorkers. We’re glad that the City Council has moved to eliminate those fees, and we’re hopeful that this will lead to an elimination of every single criminal justice fee charged by New York City.”

“We applaud Council Members Keith Powers and Rory Lancman for their efforts to decommercialize the criminal legal system by removing credit card bail payment fees so the system will have one fewer way to exploit our city’s most vulnerable communities. While we celebrate this step forward, we also understand that there is more work to be done to eliminate the many other ways the carceral system extracts wealth from majority black and brown communities,” said Peter Goldberg, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund.

“The vast majority of New Yorkers still cannot afford the amount and form of bail set. For those who can, Intro. 1199 is an important step forward by eliminating the harmful and unfair practice of charging fees to accept certain forms of bail payments, which extracts scarce funds from the predominately Black and Latinx people in poverty we represent and their communities,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services.

“Fees associated with bail payments act as a hidden and regressive tax on low-income families and communities of color, and reducing this financial burden will further the goal of ending our current wealth-based and racially discriminatory bail system.  We support Intro-1199 and the Council’s efforts to remove yet another obstacle faced by New Yorkers seeking to get their loved ones out of jail pre-trial,” said Alice Fontier, Managing Director of The Bronx Defenders’ criminal defense practice.

On behalf of JustLeadershipUSA, #CLOSErikers Campaign Coordinator Brandon Holmes said, “We applaud Councilmember Powers and Councilmember Lancman for continuously doing their part to bring more justice to New Yorkers. New York City must stop criminalizing poverty, extracting resources from our communities, and adding burdens to people and families who are already forced to come up with money bail.”

Worth Rises Executive Director Bianca Tylek said, “Worth Rises applauds the New York City Council for voting to eliminate exploitative bail fees. This is one step toward the eradication of profiteering off of New Yorkers who can least afford it—those who find themselves in the racially and economically disparate criminal legal system. No one, least of all for-profit corporations, should be earning money from an already unjust, discriminatory practice: Money bail. Until we can eliminate money bail, and dismantle the multimillion-dollar bail bonds industry in NYC, we at least can ensure that people aren’t being additionally gouged by corporations simply because of their method of paying bail for their loved ones.”

“The Luke Law Firm recognizes the importance of fair and affordable bail as a cornerstone of our democratic system of government. The authors of our Constitution had the foresight to include fair and equitable bail as a constitutional right, just as is the right to counsel. Further, we know that study after study has illustrated that the poor and people of color are most affected by the lack of access to bail during their interaction with the criminal justice system. The need to insure that those who are held awaiting trial are not exploited by excessive fee(s) that are tacked onto their bail simply for the purpose of private monetary gain. We support the Council’s Intro Bill No. 1199, and all efforts to provide equal access to justice to all New Yorkers.”