A program that is helping the city move closer toward closing Rikers Island has hit a major milestone.
The Supervised Release program, which provides judges with an alternative to setting bail or releasing a defendant without conditions, reached 10,000 enrollees this week, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice announced.
“It’s really remarkable to get to 10,000 so quickly,” Criminal Justice Agency (CJA) executive director Aubrey Fox said on Friday.
CJA is one of three service providers operating the Supervised Release program on behalf of the city. CASES manages qualifying defendants in Manhattan, CJA runs the program in Queens and The Center for Court Innovation (CCI) serves Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island.
Launched citywide in 2016, the program uses a pretrial risk assessment tool to identify defendants who would likely end up being detained due to their inability to make bail and provides judges with an option other than pretrial detention or releasing them on their own recognizance. It also assesses the risk of felony pretrial re-arrest and deems those defendants ineligible, helping judges make a critical decision within the small window of time they’re given before having to move on to the next case.
The program’s staff interviews a defendant before they’re arraigned as part of the assessment. Once a defendant is enrolled, they’re assigned a case worker who ensures court appearances are made and provides voluntary social services such as career training and substance abuse counseling.
“It’s pretty clear that Supervised Release is an incredible tool in a judge’s toolbox when making a pretrial decision,” Fox said. “[It] gives judges more confidence that they can release a person and they’ll continue to come back to court.”
According to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, Supervised Release has shown a similar pretrial success rate compared to people who are released without conditions.
In October, the program will be expanding its youth track, which includes 16- and 17-year-olds, to all five boroughs. At the end of August, the youth track had 61 enrollees, all of whom attended their court appearances, per the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
By identifying defendants who pose a lower risk to the public and releasing them with conditions, the program is also helping to reduce the daily population at Rikers Island in a way that doesn’t compromise the city’s safety.
Rikers Island has become notorious for its corruption and violence in recent years. Mayor Bill de Blasio has a 10-year plan to shutter the beleaguered jail complex and open smaller, borough-based jails instead.
In order to accomplish that goal, the daily population at Rikers Island needs to drop below 5,000.
In the two years since the Supervised Release program began, the daily population in NYC jails went from 9,939 to 8,122, according to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.