NYC Opportunity
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NYC Opportunity

Evaluation Finds Supervised Release Reduces Pretrial Detention and Money Bail Without Risk to Public Safety

About New York City’s Pretrial Supervised Release Program

In 2016, New York City rolled out a city-wide program known as the pretrial Supervised Release program, a promising criminal justice intervention intended to reduce the inequitable effects of the money bail system while maintaining high court appearance rates and low rearrest rates.

Supervised Release offers judges the option of releasing defendants to their communities as they await trial in lieu of setting bail. Defendants released to Supervised Release are required to regularly check in with program staff and receive support services designed to eliminate barriers to attending court appearances and prevent re-arrest, such as court date reminders and access to social workers and social services. The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) engaged three organizations to provide pretrial release supervision: the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services, the Center for Court Innovation, and the New York City Criminal Justice Agency. In 2018, Supervised Release was selected as a finalist for the Harvard Innovations in American Government Award.

Implementation and Impact Study Findings

A new implementation and impact study released by MDRC in partnership with NYC Opportunity and MOCJ finds Supervised Release has succeeded in achieving its goals of reducing the use of bail and pretrial detention. An analysis of 10,347 defendants (impact sample) found that defendants enrolled in Supervised Release during the evaluation period were found to spend eight fewer days in pretrial detention on average than they would have without the program. In the absence of Supervised Release, about 45 percent of enrollees would have received money bail.

At the same time, enrollees’ court appearance rates remained high despite spending nearly twice as long in their communities compared to similar defendants not enrolled in Supervised Release. Enrollees’ rearrest rates also remained low in the nine months after arraignment, indicating that the program’s goals were achieved without risk to public safety.

At the time of the study, Supervised Release was presented to judges as a release option at arraignment for only a small proportion of defendants in the system. Thus, the impacts described apply to the relatively small proportion of citywide defendants considered for Supervised Release during the study time frame.

Other key findings include:

  • Defendants enrolled in Supervised Release experienced lower conviction rates and higher rates of case dismissal. As Supervised Release reduced pretrial detention, it also reduced the incentive for defendants to plead guilty for quicker release and lengthened the time to case disposition. This circumstance probably made it more difficult for prosecutors to obtain guilty pleas for cases, requiring them to conduct more thorough investigation and build more substantial evidence to support prosecutions.
  • Supervised Release produced a large reduction in release without conditions — about 44 percent of enrollees would have been released on their own recognizance (ROR) in the absence of Supervised Release. This means some defendants who would have otherwise been released without conditions had additional conditions imposed. However, this circumstance, referred to as “net widening,” was not widespread as only a small fraction of criminal cases were considered for Supervised Release during the study time frame. As recent bail reforms have expanded Supervised Release eligibility, the report recommends that NYC remain vigilant to guard against increased net widening moving forward.
  • Nonetheless, Supervised Release was largely successful in enrolling its target population, defendants with felony charges who were at a higher risk of pretrial re-arrest, who likely would have received bail pretrial in the absence of the program.
  • Supervised Release’s effects on money bail, pretrial detention, bench warrants, and new felony arrests did not differ meaningfully among defendants of different races/ethnicities or ages.
  • Judges approved of Supervised Release’s focus on clients’ social service needs, which the program emphasized relative to other pretrial supervision programs across the country.

Bail Reform and Changes to Supervised Release

Since the implementation study took place in 2016–17, Supervised Release has undergone key changes in order to address stakeholder concerns and to support the City’s larger criminal justice reform efforts. These changes include launching a targeted youth engagement program, implementing a new graduated response policy to encourage client compliance, expanding risk eligibility, adding staff to lower caseloads, and hiring specialized staff for harder-to-reach populations.

The bail reform legislation implemented by New York State in January 2020 removes bail as an option for a majority of defendants. As a result, there has been a significant expansion of Supervised Release, which began serving both a larger number of defendants and defendants with different characteristics and types of cases than in the past (until the pandemic temporarily halted new enrollees in March). Although the study was conducted before statewide bail reform took effect in January 2020, the results remain highly relevant as the City works towards improving public safety and promoting fairness while reducing unnecessary arrests and incarceration.

To learn more, take a look at the Findings at a Glance or read the full findings in our 2020 Findings from an Evaluation of New York City’s Supervised Release Program and Executive Summary.

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