Bail Fail: Opponents Speak Out Against Bail Out

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By Christina Carrega

Funding for the month-long campaign to bust women and adolescent inmates out of two Rikers Island jailhouses is raising eyebrows.

In September, the Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Human Rights Organization announced that 200 volunteers will post bail for inmates that are housed at the Rose M. Singer Center and Robert N. Davoren Complex on Rikers Island. Once released, inmates are greeted by other volunteers at a 24-hour mobile Mass Bail Out Welcome Center located in a trailer outside of the entrance to the Elmhurst jail to get freshened up before going back home to their families.

“This is such a smack in the face to crime victims across New York City,” said Michelle Esquenazi, the president of Empire Bail Bonds. “They are letting anyone out of jail — rapists, robbers — and not considering the victims just the dollar amounts.”

The intended inmates are 16 and 17-year-olds as well as women who are unable to pay any monetary amount of bail to get out of jail during the pendency of their case.

“We see its deep flaws in the discriminatory and demeaning bail system that turns poverty into a crime, and targets people of color,” said Kerry Kennedy, the president of the RFK Human Rights Organization and the former spouse of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a press release issued on Sept. 18.

Since the launch of the Mass Bail Out Action, volunteers have shown up to the violence-prone jail to utilize funds from the RFK Human Rights Organization to release up to two inmates back into the community. Hip-hop legend and activist Common joined in on the effort and posted bail for detainees.

Posting bail for more than two inmates is considered a bail bondsman business, said Esquenazi. Without a professional license, the poster may be subjected to misdemeanor penalties, according to the state’s insurance law.

If an inmate jumps bail while out on the Mass Bail Out Action program, the RFK Human Rights Organization loses the money that would have gone back to them when the case is completed. But, if an inmate doesn’t return to court while out on bond through a bail bondsman company, bounty hunters go out to find the perpetrator.  

“What are we to tell complainants when the person who shot at them, robbed them or burglarized their home is released because the foundation posted bail? How do we protect them?” wrote Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown in an op-ed published in The New York Post Friday.

Within the first 10 days of the 31 day movement, law enforcement officials are unable to track how many alleged offenders were let out through the foundation’s funds.

“It’s not how the system is set up. It’s problematic to track who bails out who and how,” said Lucian Chalfen, Director of Communications for the state’s Office of Court Administration.