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NYC Council Speaker Wants City To Cover Bail For Poor, Low-Level Defendants

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is pushing for a citywide fund to provide bail for poor defendants charged with low-level misdemeanors whose bail is set at $2,000 or less.

"You have people that are being charged for the same crime," Mark-Viverito told CBS2's Dick Brennan. "That one who has an ability to pay can get out, and the one who is poor and doesn't have the ability to pay stays in."

Mark-Viverito said it costs money to jail the many who serve more time than they would if convicted.

In 2013 -- the most recent numbers available -- 16,663 defendants couldn't make bail of $2,000 or less, according to City Council data. And 6,327 people couldn't make bail of $20 to $500.

The speaker insisted the plan would not undermine the system.

"We have a pilot. We have a program that is working, that is happening in the Bronx as we speak," Mark-Viverito said, "and that those that had access to that bail fund have a 92 percent participation rate at their court hearing."

Councilman Eric Ulrich, R-Queens, said the real problem is that Rikers Island is crowded with the mentally ill and that money should be invested there first.

"I don't know that taxpayers necessarily want to pay for people to be sprung out of jail when they've committed a crime or been accused of committing a crime," Ulrich said.

"I don't know that it's a wise use of city tax dollars to be used as a bail fund to get people off the hook."

Mark-Viverito countered: "We're talking about $1 million, and this is something that we're willing to invest in because we've seen that it has succeeded in its pilot form."

Mayor Bill de Blasio said that bail reform is a serious issue that can be addressed without affecting public safety.

The mayor's office said it looks forward to working with the speaker on the matter and other budget issues.

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