Critics of the current system complain that it effectively keeps poor people accused of low-level, non-violent offenses in jail because they cannot get bonds for relatively small amounts, such as $1,000 or $2,000. It is unprofitable for bondsmen to deal with such clients, said Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society.
In his address, Lippman said his reforms would lessen the reliance of the criminal justice system on a bail bond industry that exercises "enormous influence over who is released pending trial and who stays in jail" with "precious little public accountability." He called for testing whether the profit motive can be taken out of bond making, citing the example of The Bronx Defenders, which created a special fund to help low-income defendants make bail.
The chief judge also pointed to a supervised release program in Kentucky that he said has saved the state about $31 million since 2005 in lower detention costs.
In both the Bronx and Kentucky programs, Lippman said participants returned to court at a rate of 90 percent or better.
Lippman said the Unified Court System is working with the Center for Court Innovation to develop a supervised release program in New York City for misdemeanor defendants now being detained.
Assembly Codes Committee Chairman Joseph Lentol, who attended Lippman's speech, said he wanted to know more about the chief judge's plans for the bail system.
"I thought it was an excellent proposal," said Lentol, D-Brooklyn. "Public safety is a concern for all of us, and we have to be mindful of it when setting bail."
On another criminal justice topic, Lippman said more must be done to prevent wrongful convictions.
He applauded passage of a law last year, urged by the courts' Justice Task Force, expanding the DNA database and giving defendants greater access. And he joined Governor Andrew Cuomo in supporting the mandatory videotaping of interrogations of those accused of felonies and the institution of lineup procedures that shield suspects' identities from test administrators.
He renewed his proposal for raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 from 16 (NYLJ, Sept. 22, 2011) but said he would make changes to alleviate concerns about costs.
For one thing, Lippman said, the program the courts submit to the Legislature would require the courts to reimburse local probation departments for added costs. And he said the legislation would permit the holding of 16- and 17-year-olds in adult jailsbut separate from adult offendersrather than requiring their relocation to extremely expensive juvenile facilities.