Suffolk County, NY - November 21, 2016 - An innovative Charitable Bail Fund Program was launched on November 14, 2016 to help low-income defendants accused of a misdemeanor and where bail is set at $2,000 or less and lack the funds to secure their own release. The program - to be run by the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk, Inc. (EOC) - is just the third such program in New York State and the first in a suburban community.
"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 recognized the need for such a program in Suffolk County and brought the idea to EOC. "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."
The revolving bail fund is modeled on the Bronx Freedom Fund, a pioneering program created in 2007 that has successfully helped more than 600 low-income Bronx residents avoid the devastating costs and disruption of short-term jail time while awaiting a hearing. A similar program, the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, was created last year.
The Bronx Freedom Fund and the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund provided technical assistance to EOC to help it launch the program in Suffolk County.
"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 additional clients.
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 Bronx program also found that 55 percent of client cases resulted in a dismissal of all charges, while another 22 percent of cases resulted in a non-criminal disposition.
Without the fund's assistance, more than 90 percent of defendants who had been jailed on bail until the end of their case had pled guilty and thus forfeited their right to trial.
Under the Suffolk County model, Legal Aid lawyers will work in partnership with EOC to qualify defendants for the program. When approved, EOC will aim to make the defendants' bail on that same day, allowing them to go home to their children and attend school or work the next day.
Once bail is made, the individual is then assigned an EOC caseworker who will marshal a range of support services, such as housing assistance, healthcare, counseling, child care, and financial aid. They will also help ensure that defendants attend required hearings and trials, going so far as assisting with the cost of transportation such as train or bus vouchers. Caseworkers stay with defendants for the duration, helping to not only ensure that they meet their legal obligations but also have the opportunity to stabilize their lives for the long term.
Fassett expressed special gratitude to Congressman Israel and to Ezra Ritchin, Project Director with the Bronx Freedom Fund, and Peter Goldberg, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, for their support and assistance in launching this innovative initiative.
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.
About the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk, Inc.
The Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk, Inc (EOC of Suffolk, Inc) is a not-for-profit 501 (c) (3) minority community based organization incorporated in the State of New York on May 5, 1967. EOC of Suffolk, Inc is Suffolk County's designated community action agency, recipient of the Federal Community Service Block Grant, which supports activities designed to assist low-income families and individuals receiving assistance under part A of Title IV of the Social Security Act.
The agency's mission is to promote a goal of self-sufficiency by broadening the minds of children, revitalizing communities, and assisting families and children in need through the provision of services and to coordinate available federal, state, local, and private resources.