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Public Defenders, Inmate Advocates Sound Off As More Detainees Are Sent To Troubled Rikers Island

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Public defenders are now taking aim at judges and district attorneys who continue to send more people to Rikers Island.

CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas has more on what they say should be done instead.

Public defenders and inmate advocates gathered outside of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office on Wednesday, demanding an end to cash bail.

"We cannot send people to torture and death because they are poor," said Alice Fontier, managing director of Neighborhood Defender Service Harlem.

According to city data, despite bail reform laws, judges continue to set bail in more cases and at higher rates than before the pandemic, forcing more people into dangerous conditions on Rikers Island.

"Most of the folks who are in there are supposed to have innocence until proven guilt, and throwing them in there often makes them unable to attend their court date and puts them through a system that is permanently traumatizing," state Assembly member Emily Gallagher said.

READ MORE'I'm So Scared For My Life': Rikers Island Detainee Shares Experiences Inside Jail Complex

Last week, Manhattan prosecutors were told to stop requesting bail for certain non-violent offenses if there's no recent history of violence, and if the defendant has not failed to appear in court.

In recent weeks, CBS2 raised the same concerns to other district attorneys.

"In my office, we only ask for bail for violent cases or repeat offenders," Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez said.

"People that are are accused of crimes are accused of some serious offenses. I look at each case individually," Bronx DA Darcel Clark said.

READ MOREExclusive: CBS2 Goes Inside Rikers Island To See How The Department Of Correction Is Trying To Turn Things Around

The number of detainees being held on Rikers Island for violent felony offenses has skyrocketed.

Still, 1,500 have been at the floating jail for more than one year just waiting for their trial.

"Calendar 1,000 more appearances per week. Do it immediately so we can work off this backlog and move forward," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

READ MOREMayor De Blasio Criticized For Not Speaking To Inmates, Correction Officers During Visit To Rikers Island

The mayor continues to criticize the court slowdown the courts say is an unavoidable result of COVID protocols while the criminal legal system is stalled.

"Whether you are a presumption of innocence or you've been found guilty, no one deserves these conditions," Assembly member Zohran Mamdani said.

The human toll of the crisis cannot be underestimated.

City data shows, when it comes to showing up for court, those who make bail and those out on supervised release show up around the same rate of 87%.

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