By Rachel Vick via Queens Daily Eagle
Days after Queens Defenders issued a letter to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz asking her office to stop requesting bail, lawmakers, advocates and public defenders are urging Katz and her counterparts across the five boroughs to take action.
The letter, signed by public defenders and lawmakers including Queens Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblymembers Khaleel Anderson, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas and Zohran Mamdani, asks that prosecutors stop requesting bail while the city works to address the crisis inside Rikers Island’s facilities.
The crisis, they say, “continues to be fueled by the callous decisions” made by prosecutors continuing to request cash bail and that the offices “make clear that you are willing to subject presumptively innocent people to torture.”
“While there are other contributing forces to this shameful situation…there is no doubt that the driving cause behind it remains the decision of your offices to seek bail recklessly and in virtually every eligible case,” the letter says. “Those decisions now leave thousands of poor New Yorkers — mostly Black and brown — to endure torture every day.”
Other signatories include Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, Legal Aid Society, Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, New York County Defender Services, Center for Community Alternatives, Freedom Agenda and the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice.
They argue that bail is issued upon request and criticized recent decisions to request bail for two Queens cases, where the attorneys and advocates claim there was no threat, and that the defendants should have been allowed supervised release.
One wheelchair-bound individual on trial for allegedly assaulting a fellow resident of an assisted living home was placed under $20,000 cash bail, though according to the letter an unnamed ADA learned the home agreed to keep both the defendant and victim separated to avoid additional altercations.
In another case where someone was facing a misdemeanor for shoplifting — and eligible for supervised release — they were also held on bail. The writers argue that the decision, even after family members said they would make sure the individual returned to court, was another example of an unnecessary Rikers sentence.
A spokesperson for the DA’s office said he was not familiar with any cases resembling those described in the letter.
“Criminal justice reform legislation passed last year, which the DA supports, makes most non-violent crimes ineligible for bail,” the spokesperson said. “We continue to consider the least restrictive means that will ensure a defendant’s return to court, including supervised release and other options.”
After the Queens Defenders issued a similar request, a spokesperson from the office told the Eagle they would “continue to review the securing orders of those who are being held at Rikers on Queens cases, with an eye toward expediting dispositions, advancing sentences and considering jail alternatives while ever mindful of our duty to protect public safety.”