NYC Mayor: Clearing court backlog will shrink jail census

AP News
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Posted: Apr 14, 2015 4:18 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Fixing bureaucratic backlogs in the courts will reduce the number of people locked up in the troubled Rikers Island jail complex, city and state officials said Tuesday.

The plan, announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio as part of broader reforms to shrink the overall jail population, will begin with scheduling a court date in the next 45 days for any pre-trial inmates with cases pending for more than a year. Further reforms will include using technology to track such cases and assigning teams of prosecutors, defense attorneys, court administrators and city officials to decrease overall court processing times.

"Today's changes are part of my long-term commitment to bring the criminal justice system into the 21st century, safely drive down the number of people behind bars, and make the system fairer," de Blasio said in a statement.

City officials also proposed changes to the criminal summons system for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers ticketed every year for low-level offenses such as riding a bike on the sidewalk and public drinking.

While the overall inmate population at Rikers has shrunk from a peak of more than 20,000 about 20 years to roughly 10,000 today, many inmates stay on the island for far too long because of inefficiencies in the courts, officials say.

A few hundred inmates spent more than 270 days waiting for trial there last year — and a handful have waited more than six years awaiting trial, according to newly released statistics.

Jonathan Lippman, the state's chief judge, said the multi-agency approach is a novel way to break the backlog, emptying jail beds and ensuring just court proceedings in the process.

"Improving the quality of justice and fostering public trust and confidence in our justice system are critical objectives that the courts, law enforcement and the defense bar all share," he said in a statement.