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The Never-ending Battle Over Bail Reform

In the latest episode of the Hell Gate Podcast, we check in on the ongoing bail reform wars and hear from Prakash Churaman, who is still struggling to come to terms with his experience on Rikers.

1:06 PM EST on March 3, 2023

An aerial view of Rikers Island.

An aerial view of Rikers Island. (USGS / Wikimedia)

It's one of the defining questions that has organized New York politics for the last several years: Are we sending enough people to jail before they've had a chance to establish their innocence at trial?

The debate has played out in the legislative halls of Albany, on the campaign trail in New York City and around the state, and in the tabloids and on local TV news. Mayor Eric Adams was so eager to persuade the public as well as state legislators that we need to send more people to jail that last summer, he made a presentation on the topic—one which was found this week to have violated state law and a court injunction.

But while the issue has become a political football, its implications couldn't be more real. In New York City, sending more people to jail means sending more people to Rikers Island, where the incarcerated population is overwhelmingly and disproportionately Black and brown, where people die with frightening regularity, and where mental health problems are endemic and exacerbated. Holding more people on Rikers reverses years of gains in reducing the City's jail population, and moves New York City further away from the goal of being able to close the unconstitutionally dangerous jail complex for good.

This week, in the Hell Gate Podcast, we look at both ends of this conversation. I talked with the Vera Institute of Justice's Jullian Harris-Calvin about why and how bail reform has become such a political live wire in recent years, and how the latest round of the fight over pretrial detention is shaping up in the legislature this year. 

But to keep things grounded, I also spoke with my friend and Hell Gate colleague Max Rivlin-Nadler, who has spent much of the past year following the case of Prakash Churaman, a Queens man who was arrested when he was still a boy and spent his teenage years on Rikers, only to have his murder charges dismissed after Max uncovered some skullduggery on the part of the cops who put him away. And you'll hear Churaman himself talk about his experience on Rikers and the difficulty of navigating the trauma he sustained while incarcerated.

New podcasts will be available every Friday, for free. You can subscribe to the Hell Gate Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you normally consume podcasts.

Drop us a line and tell us what you think of episode two. If you enjoy our podcast, give us a five-star rating and tell your friends about it—and please subscribe to Hell Gate so we can make more episodes!

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