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Online bail payments now available in NYC — for some detainees

A debit or credit card can be used to pay online if bail is set at $2,500 or less.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has committed to closing

Mayor Bill de Blasio has committed to closing Rikers Island, the city's main jail complex, within 10 years. Photo Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

Bail set at $2,500 or less can now be paid online with a debit or credit card, a move away from New York City’s status quo of limiting payment to in-person and at jails or courts, the mayor’s office said Friday.

The city’s vendor, Paymentus, will add a nonrefundable 2.49 percent fee to the bail amount the judge sets, according to Patrick Gallahue, the spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office of Criminal Justice.

Gallahue said that in 2017, bail for about a third of people held as pre-trial detainees was set at $2,500 or less.

In addition to the $2,500 cap, there are other limitations: the arrestee cannot pay bail online himself from custody, where there is no Internet access; a judge must specifically flag an arrestee’s case eligible for credit-card payments; and the online option won’t show up online until he is processed by the jail system — which can take hours during transport between court and jail.

Mitch Abramson, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, said inmates should be freed in less than four hours after bail is posted online.

The $2,500 cap is set by the state’s Office of Court Administration, Gallahue said. A press release from the mayor’s office said it hopes to get the cap raised by the end of the year.

The bail system, long criticized as inefficient, still relies on the fax machine to communicate between Department of Correction jail facilities that an inmate’s bail has been paid and that the inmate should be freed.

Abramson said the online bail system would not involve the fax machine. He said the agency would still communicate via fax when bail is posted at a lockup other than the jail where an arrestee is being housed, for instance, at the Tombs jail in Lower Manhattan on behalf of a person jailed on Rikers. 

Councilman Keith Powers (D-Manhattan), who oversees jails for the legislature, called online bail “the first step in making the bail system fairer in New York City.

“This is a long-awaited announcement that will hopefully end the reliance on outdated technology, like fax machines, to dictate whether a New Yorker can pay bail or not,” he said.

Earlier this week, a broken fax machine kept inmates locked up, even after loved ones had posted bail.

De Blasio has committed to closing Rikers Island, the city’s main jail complex, within 10 years. The island, where about 9,000 mostly pre-trial detainees are locked up, has been called a place of “deep-seated violence” by the U.S. Department of Justice.

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