New York City courts are getting an early start on the state's new bail reforms that start in January. That’s when judges can no longer impose cash bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.

The city's Department of Correction has estimated 880 people will still be in jail then who shouldn't be, because they were charged with offenses that will no longer qualify for bail.

To avoid overwhelming the system with a flood of December releases, the Office of Court Administration said it’s begun working with New York City on “the unprecedented process” of letting defendants out before January. Spokesman Lucian Chalfan said this includes discharge planning and “developing the complex logistical process” of having judges review their cases in the next two months.

“Many of the defendants who will be released must receive medical and/or mental health assistance, medications, housing assistance/placements and other services as mandated by settlement, consent decree or regulation,” he added.

Stan German, executive director of New York County Defender Services in Manhattan, said defense attorneys can start asking judges this week to release their clients when they appear in court for pre-trial status conferences. He predicts some judges will agree to release people early while others may prefer to wait until closer to January.

Still, he said, “What we anticipate, especially with folks who are currently incarcerated on bail, is that judges are likely to opt for supervised release.”

Supervised release is a program in which defendants will get reminders and services to keep coming back to court instead of going to jail because they can’t pay bail.

The Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice says it's working with courts and judges to prepare for the new law.

“Protecting the safety and security of all New Yorkers is always our number one priority,” said spokeswoman Avery Cohen. “We continue to work every day with state and city agencies, as well as non-profits and others who are responsible for implementation of the state law.”

New York City currently runs a supervised release program for defendants accused of nonviolent crimes to meet with case workers on a regular basis before their trials. Since its launch in 2016, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice said more than 15,000 people have entered the program, 92 percent of whom had no felony re-arrests while in program. And 87 percent of all participants made every court appearance while in program.

But those people were largely accused of low level crimes. The new bail reform law means many more people are likely to participate, because 90 percent of offenses will no longer be eligible for bail, including manslaughter in the second degree and some other assaults. Judges will have to find the least restrictive way of ensuring defendants come back to court, and supervision fits that bill.

The city’s supervised release program now serves about 4,500 people a year at a cost of $14 million. Depending on how often judges opt for supervised release starting in January, the program is expected to triple or quadruple the number of yearly participants. Its budget will grow to $50 million annually, through additional funding in a package to close the jail complex at Rikers Island.

It’s not yet clear how much the program will change to serve a wider population of defendants. Currently, the participants meet with social workers, receive text messages and phone calls reminding them of court dates, and free MetroCards. City Hall is planning to introduce more intensive counseling services for those accused of more serious offenses or living at the margins of society.

Defense attorneys worry the program could become overly restrictive. State law allows electronic monitoring, though the city has not yet determined whether that will be part of the mix. Meanwhile, critics told the New York Post they worry too many potentially dangerous people will wind up on the streets through supervised release, and they disapprove of using gift cards to ensure defendants come back to court. City officials said the program provides $10 gift cards to a couple of restaurants and shops to encourage positive behavior--as recommended by national studies--and a donor once paid for Mets tickets for a few older teens in the program.

District attorneys have also widely criticized the new law and say they don’t have enough resources to pay for a requirement that they turn over evidence to defense attorneys more quickly, including police body camera footage.

But German and other reform advocates said they look forward to freeing more defendants before January. “A lot of folks are currently incarcerated quite simply because they’re poor,” he said, noting that bail is intended to ensure people return to court--not as a form of punishment. “I think these reforms are long overdue and I think our clients are going to be thrilled by it.”

Beth Fertig is a senior reporter covering courts and legal affairs at WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @bethfertig.