A charitable bail fund program is being launched for the first time on Long Island for low-income defendants accused of misdemeanor crimes.
Similar funds are already in operation in the Bronx and Brooklyn.
The Suffolk program — being run by the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk — begins on Monday, Nov. 14. It’s the third bail fund program in New York State and the first in a suburban area.
“When misdemeanor defendants are jailed because they can’t provide bail money, their lives — and their families’ lives — are typically thrown into absolute turmoil,” said Congressman Steve Israel, who brought the idea to the Opportunity Council, a nonprofit group.
Under the Suffolk County model, Legal Aid lawyers will coordinate with the Opportunity Council to qualify defendants for the program, which requires bail be $2,000 or less.
Once approved, the effort is made to post bail on that same day, allowing defendants to go home to their children and immediately attend school or work.
The revolving fund is modeled on the Bronx Freedom Fund, a pioneering program created in 2007 that has helped more than 600 low-income Bronx residents “avoid the devastating costs and disruption of short-term jail time while awaiting a hearing,” reads a press announcement about the Suffolk fun.
The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund was created last year.
Both city groups helped advise the Suffolk fund in getting started.
“Hundreds of clients in the Bronx and Brooklyn have been able to maintain their jobs, attend school, stay in their homes, and enroll in appropriate support programs and services while their cases were pending,” Israel said.
The Bronx Freedom Fund — operating in conjunction with a team of public defenders, reentry specialists, and social service providers — reports that 96 percent of its clients return for court appearances, a compliance rate far higher than that of defendants released on their own recognizance, the announcement reads.
“This new program fully aligns with our organizational mission to help keep families intact, and to promote self-sufficiency and economic justice,” said Adrian Fassett, CEO of the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk, Inc.
“Based on the record of the Bronx and Brooklyn programs, we see how this fund can provide stability and normality for those charged with misdemeanors.”
Fassett added that since the bail fund gets virtually all of its money back when clients make their court dates, nearly every dollar of bail money is reused to assist more clients.
For more information about the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk, Inc.’s Charitable Bail Fund Program, or to make a tax-deductible contribution to the fund, contact Stephanie Loehr, Executive Assistant to the CEO, at (631) 289-2124 x101.
Photo: The Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverside.
(Credit: Riverhead News-Review/Grant Parpan)