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Justice

Why New York City Created Its Own Fund to Bail People Out of Jail

The city’s new plan may seem counterintuitive. But it’s one of several ways NYC is trying to reform a bail system that the state largely controls.
The Liberty Fund's Lisa Whiteside hands out business cards to public defenders and criminal justice activists in the Bronx Criminal Court to spread the word about the fund's existence.
The Liberty Fund's Lisa Whiteside hands out business cards to public defenders and criminal justice activists in the Bronx Criminal Court to spread the word about the fund's existence. Teresa Mathew/CityLab

At 7 p.m. on a Thursday inside the Bronx Criminal Court, Lisa Whiteside is trying to determine who she can prevent from spending the night on Riker’s Island. She scans the docket of 30 scheduled arraignments, knowing it will likely double in length as the night gets longer. Whiteside sits across one side of a thick glass barrier and asks promising candidates whether or not they have secure housing. What the circumstances were behind their arrest. What headspace they are in now. Not all people get to the face-to-face meeting, but those who do have a chance to argue that they should be helped. And Whiteside must then decide whether or not to pay their bail.

Whiteside is a charitable bail fund agent in the Bronx. She pays bail for some New Yorkers who can’t afford to pay it themselves.