Rikers conditions so bad, no bail in non-violent cases, Manhattan DA advises prosecutors

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Manhattan DA directs prosecutors not to ask for bail in nonviolent cases
Manhattan DA directs prosecutors not to ask for bail in nonviolent cases due to conditions at Rikers Island.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Conditions at Rikers Island, New York City's troubled jail complex, are so bad that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has directed prosecutors not to ask for bail in nonviolent cases even if it risks an increase in additional "low level" crime.

The directive comes amid a spate of deaths, nearly a dozen this year, and a culture of violence that have spurred calls for emergency action.

The district attorney's office said the conditions at Rikers "are of deep concern" and "will inform our bail practices for at least the next few weeks."

For non-violent crimes and when a defendant's record does not demonstrate recent violence the DA instructed trial prosecutors not to ask for bail.

"We hope that the conditions on Rikers Island improve quickly. While we are duty bound to insure public safety, we are also aware that no one can avert their eyes from the conditions being reported at Rikers. In light of the conditions faced by those individuals detained at Rikers, we have endeavored to ensure that our practices are as equitable as possible, even though we understand that releasing some individuals may, unfortunately, lead to additional low level crime," said Executive Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi in a memo obtained by ABC News.

In a follow up email, also obtained by ABC News, assistant district attorney Andrew Warshawer said "we will not ask for monetary bail, for the time being, when:

1. The instant crime is legally and factually non-violent, and does not implicate domestic violence or other risk of physical harm to a person; AND

2. The defendant is not a violent predicate felon, and does not have sex crimes or violent misdemeanor convictions within the last 10 years; AND

3. The defendant has not failed to appear on the instant case."

Warshawer said the office will still ask for supervised release and other non-cash conditions.

Mayor Bill de Blasio commented on the directive during his daily press conference on Wednesday.

"I haven't seen the exact directive from the DA. I think this is always about striking a balance. I share your concern that it has to be very, very carefully approached. There are some low level offenses where, I've said this for a long time, people do not belong in a jail setting, we can use supervised release. We can use a lot of other tools. Obviously, if we are having a particular challenge at Rikers, we're not going to send someone there if there is not a reason. But when it particularly comes to anything regarding violent crime or serious crime, I would be very, very careful. We've come a long way improving the public safety situation over the course of this year, but weve got a lot of work to do," the mayor said.

RELATED | Lawmakers tour Rikers Island, call conditions inside 'inhumane'

Lawmakers toured Rikers Island Monday and used the words "tortuous," "inhumane" and "horrific" to describe the conditions they witnessed inside.


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