…Guilty or innocent, the urge to intervene in the lives of those we shovel into the criminal justice system has proven almost irresistible to politicians over the years. So despite the fact that the most effective method of ensuring that people return to court is to just release them with nothing more than a friendly reminder of their court dates via calls or text messages, the city has already made clear that it will aim to create a “pretrial-services system” at an estimated annual cost of $18 million.
In the pretrial services model, released defendants are steered to an agency that can impose conditions on their freedom. Failure to maintain compliance with mandated services can lead to violations of supervised release, reincarceration, and other penalties. The problem with the pretrial-services model is that these “services,” which are a condition of one’s release, are often identical to, and sometimes far more onerous than the sentence one would receive for actually being guilty of the crime. …
In 2013, the NYPD arrested over 350,000 people. Almost all of these arrests were for low-level, nonviolent crimes — the very cases that disproportionately populate the city’s courtrooms and dockets. These quality-of-life arrests fall disproportionately on poor people of color — the very people who will most often be subject to the terms and conditions of the new, pretrial-services scheme. And while “supervision” may sound good on the evening news, it is a terrible thing for those caught up in it — many of them struggling to get by, working two jobs with inflexible hours while juggling childcare and other responsibilities. For them, the bureaucratic necessitates of compliance can become terribly destabilizing.