September 29, 2021

Queens Defenders – a Queens-based public defender organization – commends Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance for his decision yesterday to not ask for cash bail for many nonviolent offenses.

Considering the ongoing revelations of the deplorable, inhumane, and intolerable conditions at Rikers Island, Queens Defenders strongly encourages the Office of Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz to immediately follow suit and stop seeking cash bail.

Queens Defenders attorneys are committed to working with the Queens District Attorney’s Office and the Courts to find alternative solutions for individuals accused of crimes that can include unsecured, partially secured, and supervised release, released on their own recognizance, mental health, and substance abuse treatment, electronic monitoring for more serious crimes, and other options.

Such options will ensure our fellow New York City residents are not needlessly incarcerated at Rikers Island solely because they and their families cannot afford cash bail. Additionally, those with substance use challenges, mental health issues, and other disabilities can receive the treatment they need in their communities rather than jail.

Over the last year, the unacceptable conditions at Rikers Island have been brought into public view. Our city’s public defenders have long been aware of Rikers’ reputation and the devastating and often life-threatening impact it has had on the individuals we serve. In the last several weeks, we have seen increased coverage of and strong public response to the needless injury and death of our clients – 12 so far this year. We have been beyond the point of needing action for a long time and are encouraged by decisions like those from DA Vance and Governor Hochul’s disaster emergency declaration for Rikers Island.

We must do more.

Now is the time to do something. Now is the time to act in the best interest of all New Yorkers, especially our low-income neighbors who have fewer options to pay cash bail and are disproportionally – and unnecessarily – held at Rikers Island. This injustice is particularly harmful to our clients who have pled not guilty and are awaiting their day in court from a prison cell.

The Queens District Attorney’s office can take a leadership role and stand for ensuring the health and safety of our city’s residents by ending cash bail for non-violent felonies and seeking release with conditions for more serious offenses.