The WSLS Bail Fund is a program run by Washington Square Legal Services, Inc. (WSLS), a New York not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation affiliated with NYU School of Law. WSLS is licensed as a charitable bail organization with the New York Department of Financial Services and is the first charitable bail organization serving defendants in Manhattan.
WSLS posts bail on behalf of certain indigent criminal defendants who have been charged with misdemeanors and lack the funds to make bail. WSLS does not represent these defendants in a legal capacity. Instead, legal organizations that represent these defendants and are not affiliated with WSLS, such as the New York County Defender Services (NYCDS), a public defender office in Manhattan, refer them to WSLS.
More than 50,000 defendants are held annually in pre-trial detention because they cannot afford bail, yet almost 40 percent of bail amounts are $1,000 or less. This has staggering ethical and financial implications. Jailing defendants before trial subjects them to economic and psychological hardship, limits their ability to properly prepare their defense, and places them at a serious disadvantage during the plea bargaining process. What is especially troubling is that almost 50 percent of these cases end in non-criminal dispositions (outright dismissals, Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal, or violations). In the end, New Yorkers pay the price. Taxpayers spend over $100,000 a year to detain just one individual on Rikers Island.
To know the politics of bail in New York City is to know that in the criminal justice system, to borrow the words of Bryan Stevenson, “you are treated better if you are guilty and wealthy than if you are poor and innocent.” WSLS seeks to promote a more equitable system of justice by supporting indigent defendants.