- Bebeto Matthews/AP
A man spent 5 months in jail at Rikers Island, one of the country’s most notorious prisons, for a chunk of pocket change.
Aitabdel Salem, a 41-year-old from Queens, was initially jailed on a $25,000 bail for allegedly attacking a police officer who was arresting him on charges of shoplifting on November 21, 2014, reports the New York Daily News.
Prosecutors for the case, however, failed to land an indictment, and a judge ordered Salem’s release on November 28, 2014, just one week after his arrest.
Salem, however, still had to pay two $1 bail charges for two unrelated tampering and mischief charges.
The only problem: Salem didn’t know just $2 could set him free. He languished in the overcrowded prison until May 2015, when he was finally released, reports The Daily News.
But that wasn’t the end of his troubles. Salem failed to show up for an arraignment hearing for those charges on May 13, 2015 and was slapped with a bail-jumping charge. He was jailed, again, but this time on a $30,000 bail.
He remains at Rikers with new legal representation.
Salem and his lawyers argue his former Legal Aid attorney, StephenPokart, neglected to tell him about the $2 fee, and therefore, Salem can’t be blamed for missing his arraignment.
“You can’t do what you don’t know and if you’re a defendant in a criminal case you certainly have a right to rely upon the system what your next court date is,” one of Salem’s new attorneys, Theodore Goldbergh, argued in court, according to the Daily News.
Pokart, Salem’s former lawyer, did not respond to the Daily News’ request for comment.
Bail issues have been an ongoing problem at Rikers. Kalief Browder was jailed there on a $3,000 bail after being charged with stealing a backpack at age 16, according to The Marshall Project.
Browder, like a huge portion of America’s jail population, couldn’t afford bail. He was incarcerated at Rikers for three years – undergoing long stints in solitary confinement and abuse by guards – before he was released when his case was dismissed.
Browder committed suicide in June 2015.