Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s touted bail fund has helped free just two low-level detainees and is months away from being fully operational.
The Liberty Fund continues to struggle to get off the ground despite being announced as the centerpiece of the speaker’s first State of the City address in February 2015.
In a no-bid contract, the Council selected the Doe Fund to create and run the bail kitty and set aside a little over $1 million for operating costs.
The bail industry is highly regulated — in large part to keep close tabs on possible predatory bail-bond agencies — and requires new operators to jump through a myriad of regulatory hoops.
“We didn’t know how long it would take,” said Alexander Horwitz, Doe Fund chief of staff. “What we were up against was the dubious reputation of the for-profit bail sector.”
First, the Doe Fund needed to get tax-exempt status as a legitimate nonprofit, a process that in some instances takes up to two years.
Then, the fund had to get licensed by the state’s Department of Financial Services.
The fund is now in the process of getting staff licensed as certified bail bondsmen. That takes up to three months. Currently, only two people on staff have the license needed, far from the planned 10 in total.
“We are still hiring bail agents,” Horwitz said.
By contrast, the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund has six and the Bronx Freedom Fund has multiple on staff as well. Those funds have bailed out more than 2,000 low-level offenders over the past two years.
“And 95% of all our clients have made all their court dates, which challenges the notion that bail is necessary for people to return to court,” said Peter Goldberg, executive director of the Brooklyn fund.