New York City could save tens of millions of dollars a year if it did not incarcerate thousands of defendants charged with minor crimes -- like hopping a turnstile, smoking marijuana in public or trespassing -- before their trials, according to a new report by advocacy group Human Rights Watch.
In 2008 alone, the city could have kept $42 million in its coffers, had it not locked up 16,649 non-felony defendants who were unable to post bail of $1,000 or less, according to the report. Among defendants arrested that year on misdemeanor charges with bail set at $1,000 or less, 87% were incarcerated because they could not afford the bail, the report said. The average stay in detention was 15.7 days.
City officials disagreed with the report's main findings, arguing most of the misdemeanor defendants held while awaiting trial are locked up because they have prior criminal offenses on their records. The report cites data from the New York City Department of Corrections, which shows that the city could save $161 per inmate per day if the jail population were reduced by 800 or more.