Fighting for the right to a fair trial for all.

Bail: A Costly Injustice

Rikers Island is filled with thousands of poor people accused of misdemeanors. They’re not serving time as a punishment. They’ve been found guilty of no crime.

They languish in jail because a small amount of bail far exceeds what they and their families can afford. 90% are Black or Hispanic. Their poverty alone imprisons them. The result is two systems of criminal justice: one for those who have and one for those who do not.

The Problem

Bail is only supposed to be an incentive to come back to court. Bail is not punishment. But that’s not how bail works in practice for the poor.


Even in cases that are weak or involve unlawful arrests, people routinely plead guilty just to get out of jail. If they don't, they may spend months in jail awaiting trial. While a plea lets them go home, it’s with a criminal record. Poverty robs them of the presumption of innocence and their right to a fair trial.

The damage doesn’t end with a guilty plea. Bail pushes already-struggling families deeper into the margins of society.  Even a short stint on Rikers can mean the loss of a job, eviction or deportation. Bail destroys lives. It is a primary driver of mass incarceration, wastes public funds and intensifies the racial and economic inequality existing in New York and across the nation.

Bail in amounts as low as $500:

  • Imprisons the innocent
  • Coerces guilty pleas
  • Fuels unemployment and homelessness
  • Erodes the social fabric of already-fragile communities
  • Costs New Yorkers millions of dollars every year

For Fairer, Smarter Criminal Justice

The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, prevents unnecessary and unjust jailing by paying bail for low-income New Yorkers accused of misdemeanors. By paying small amounts of bail, we keep low-income New Yorkers free of unjust incarceration and able to defend themselves from a position of freedom. Families and communities are kept together, productive and stable.

After release, the Fund provides and facilitates access to social workers; re-entry assistance with respect to housing, employment and education; benefits experts; and immigration and employment attorneys. Learn more about the Fund’s connections to critical reentry and social services here. 

The Fund

Meet Juan

Father of two. Lives with wife and kids in family shelter in Brownsville. Recently secured a job at a department store after a 9-month job search.


*Among the most common misdemeanor charges at arraignment in New York are marijuana possession, turnstile jumping, driving with a suspended license, low-level drug possession, petit larceny and trespassing.


Juan’s situation is a common one. Bail unjustly imprisons the poor, forces guilty pleas, destabilizes already-struggling communities and costs taxpayers a fortune. The Bail Fund can help.


Two people charged with the same crime should not have two completely different outcomes because one of them cannot afford bail. Help us restore fairness to the criminal justice system.

*Based on 2013 data provided by Brooklyn Defender Services.

How it Works


The Fund screens people immediately after arrest and identifies those charged with misdemeanors, who cannot afford bail of $2,000 or less. The Fund primarily pays bail at arraignments – the same time as someone with means would – and these clients never step foot on Rikers. Those less fortunate should also have the right to a fair trial.

As cases are resolved, the bail originally paid revolves back to the Fund, available to help other defendants in need.