Bail is Broken

In April 2019, New York State passed sweeping criminal justice legislation limiting the use of money bail and reforming our evidence sharing and speedy trial laws. Trinity worked with a coalition of interfaith partners, advocates, directly impacted people and legislators in pushing to end money bail with our #BailisBroken campaign. 

“The inclusion of Bail Reform in the New York State budget is a crucial turning point in the fight to end the unjust practice of cash bail not just in our state, but across the country,” said Rev. Winnie Varghese, Senior Priest of Justice and Reconciliation at Trinity Church. “We are pleased that Albany has decided to stand with New Yorkers who have had their jobs and families taken away for the inability to raise just a few hundred dollars. Advocates, directly impacted people, and legislators have shown great leadership throughout this process, but this is not the end. We must continue to work towards a system that broadly doesn’t discriminate against the poor and people of color. The religious community is looking forward to real change this year.”

The Rev. Winnie Varghese joins Rabbi Stephanie Kolin of Central Synagogue and Rabbi Rachel Timoner of Congregation Beth Elohim in celebrating this policy win and committing to the ongoing work of ending mass incarceration. Read the full letter here.


After a person is arrested, they go before a judge who determines whether they are held behind bars, whether bail is set, or if they are allowed to go home while preparing for their day in court. When money bail is set, if a person can’t afford it, they must stay in jail until their court date.

No one should be held in jail simply because they cannot afford to buy their freedom. Over 16,000 people are in jail in New York State on any given day-- pre-trial. Overwhelmingly this is because they cannot afford their bail. A system that determines freedom based on the size of a person’s bank account is a broken system. Poverty is not, and should not be, a crime.

Trinity Church Wall Street is working with our partners and supporters to ensure that bail reform becomes state law this year. Here’s why we believe this is the morally right thing to do:

  • Money bail creates a two-tiered justice system. While the wealthy can pay bail and go free, working class and poor New Yorkers are left to suffer behind bars while they wait for their day in court. Many lose jobs, housing, or custody of their children without ever having been convicted of anything.

  • Our current bail system disproportionately affects people of color and the poor. Nearly 90 percent of the jail population in NYC is Black or Latinx.

  • Imprisoning people before their trial, denying people their basic presumption of innocence, and completely disconnecting the accused from their families and communities is inhumane. It denies people their basic rights.

  • Today, NYC’s jail population is under 8,000 – about half of what it was in the 1990s. Crime is at historic lows in our city and across the nation. A higher jail population does not equal safer communities.

  • As a system created to ensure people show up for their court dates, bail doesn’t statistically affect outcomes. Instead, studies have shown that simple reminders, such as phone calls or text messages, can substantially increase the likelihood of a person appearing for their court date.

We must reform New York’s bail laws and end money bail. Gov. Cuomo has taken a significant first step toward meaningful reform in his budget proposal, but we must ensure the final legislation confronts the vast inequities of our justice system and drastically reduces the number of people held in jail. Your voice will be especially important in the weeks and months ahead to enact bold reforms to New York State's money bail laws.

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Download the "Stop Mass Incarceration" Call To Action PDF.

 

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Videos


Arraignments 101

 

 

Community members from Trinity, Middle Collegiate Church, Central Synagogue, The Interfaith Center of New York, and other faith communities came together to learn about the arraignment process from Brooklyn Community Bail Fund and Court Watch NYC on February 23. By observing arraignments, faith communities can bear witness to hold the criminal justice system accountable.

 
Bail Is Broken: Faith Leaders Breakfast

 

 

Trinity Church Wall Street hosted a breakfast January 31 at St. Paul’s Chapel for faith leaders, community advocates, and local political office holders to rally support to eliminate cash bail in the state. Ending the practice will require lawmakers in Albany to write and pass laws, but speakers at the breakfast emphasized that cash bail is more than just a political matter, it’s also a deeply moral issue.

 
End Cash Bail and Stop Mass Incarceration Breakfast

 

 

No one should be held in jail simply because they cannot afford to buy their freedom. Poverty is not, and should not be, a crime. Trinity Church Wall Street is working with partners and supporters to ensure that bail reform becomes state law this year. Watch the full video of a breakfast at St. Paul's Chapel with leaders like Speaker Carl Heastie, Senator Mike Gianaris, Senator Jamaal Bailey, the Rev. Winnie Varghese, and Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, who are committed to ending cash bail in New York State.

 
Bail: Punishment for Poverty

 

 

The Mass Bail Out campaign posted bail for over one hundred women and children awaiting trial, many of whom were held at Rikers Island and could not afford bail. As the Rev. Winnie Varghese explains, cash bail is a broken system, a punishment for poverty. Hear why she and others from our Trinity Church Wall Street community partnered with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights to support this historic action. Learn more at massbailout.org.

 
Cash Bail and Rikers Island Jail

 

 

Trinity Church Wall Street recently hosted faith groups committed to closing Rikers Island Jail, a goal that can’t be accomplished until the jail’s population, 78 percent of whom are accused but not convicted, is significantly reduced. One reason so many people remain in Rikers so long is because they cannot afford the cost of cash bail, one of many subjects retired Judge Jonathan Lippman and the Rev. Winnie Varghese of Trinity discussed in a wide-ranging video interview about Rikers. To learn more, visit trinitywallstreet.org/rikers

 

Additional Information


For more information, or to request printed materials about bail reform efforts, email action@trinitywallstreet.org.