New York Appeals Court Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said the way the state's bail bond process is structured, bondsmen, not judges or lawyers, frequently have the most say in who remains incarcerated awaiting trial and who is released.
New York is one of just a handful of states that does not permit judges to consider public safety when setting bail. The only consideration under present law is the likelihood a defendant will return for court dates, The New York Times said.
"As a result, defendants may be put back on the street with insufficient regard to public safety, with possibly catastrophic consequences," the judge said during his annual state of the judiciary speech in Albany. "This makes no sense and certainly does not serve the best interests of our communities and our citizens."
Additionally, bondsmen, whose profits are determined by a percentage of the overall bail amount, frequently ignore low-level suspects because their bail isn't worth it, concentrating instead on those with higher bail -- which generally corresponds with more serious, frequently violent crimes.
"With precious little public accountability, bail bondsmen exercise enormous influence over who is released pending trial and who stays in jail," he said. "The fact is that, in many cases, bail bondsmen, not judges and not prosecutors, ultimately make the most critical decisions affecting the liberty of those accused of crimes in our criminal justice system."
Lippman called for expanded community monitoring of low-level defendants and increased non-profit involvement in putting up bail money.