Gov. Dannel P. Malloy publicly acknowledged Tuesday what has been increasingly clear: The only portion of his “Second Chance” criminal justice reforms with a chance of passage in special session is a provision eliminating bail for minor crimes.
Democratic legislative leaders advised Malloy in a conference call Saturday to focus on bail reform and give up on a provision raising the age of adult criminal responsibility to 21 for crimes other than the most serious felonies, a concept that many legislators saw as politically risky in an election year.
“This weekend, I spoke with Democratic caucus leadership, and together we have agreed to pursue a compromise,” Malloy said in a statement. “That agreement would focus on passing the bail reform components of the original bill.”
House leaders scheduled a session for Thursday, effectively setting a deadline for setting the parameters of a deal with Malloy on bail reform. If an agreement on language is reached, the measure could come before the House on Thursday and the Senate would follow on some later date.
House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said in an interview the legislature’s Democratic majority and the governor still were discussing the scope of the bail reform provisions with an eye toward getting a hard vote count Thursday. Malloy originally proposed banning bail for most misdemeanors, while giving judges some discretion.
“We will be caucusing this bill for the first time Thursday to take their temperature and find their level of support,” Sharkey said.
The goal is to eliminate the need for hundreds of jail and prison beds now occupied by defendants who cannot afford even modest bail while they await trial. In some cases, the pretrial waits exceed the punishments likely to be imposed for a conviction.
“On a typical day there are approximately 350 prisoners in our state’s jails who are charged only with a non-violent misdemeanor, but who are too poor to post even a small bond,” Malloy said. “The vast majority of these defendants will spend a month or two waiting for their cases to be resolved in court and will then be released directly from court. It just doesn’t make sense.”
The budget awaiting Malloy’s signature includes a savings of about $15 million from closing a correction facility, which is unlikely to occur without the misdemeanor bail reforms.
Malloy’s proposal to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility, which follows a European approach and would break ground in the U.S., garnered the most national attention. But bail reform is also part of a national reappraisal of policies that have given the U.S. the highest incarceration rates.
“The bail reform is still very significant from a standpoint of reducing costs and also providing opportunity for those without means in order to not wait in jail needlessly, especially for non-violent crimes,” Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said.
Duff said the Senate had the votes to pass the full Second Chance bill, albeit by the minimum margin. No Republicans were prepared to vote for Second Chance, but the scaled-down measure will be closely watched by at least a handful of Senate Republicans.
“I personally remain committed to the idea of the bill, and I want to make sure we are doing this in a responsible way,” Sharkey said. “I’d like to think that based on some statements the Republican leaders have made in the recent past, the bail reform would garner at least some bipartisan support.””
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R- North Haven, who supports eliminating bail for non-violent misdemeanors, said the administration had not yet approached him to see if contemplated revisions could pick up some Republican support in the Senate.
“Speaking for myself and probably a couple others, if it is for non-violent, non-predator offenses, I think there is some room for discussion with respect to that,” Fasano said. “I would be open to it.”
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, would offer no prediction of Republican support until she sees a bill.
“There were no votes for the drafted bill prior to today from House Republicans in advance of the planned Thursday special session, and we await language,” Klarides said. “We all believe in the concept of a ‘second chance’ for offenders but House Republicans are not prepared to support any legislation that compromises public safety.”
Sharkey declined to call a vote on Second Chance on the last day of the regular session, saying passage was uncertain. He also delayed a vote on the bond package, which is vital to local school construction projects, to ensure legislators would return in special session to consider Second Chance.
If there is no deal on bail, the House still is expected to vote on the bond package Thursday, he said. A vote on bail could come Thursday or later – if there were support for a concept that still needed work. The Senate has passed the bond package and would return only if the House passed the bail bill.
“Presently, access to bail too often depends on an individual’s financial resources rather than the circumstances of the actual case. Low-income and minority defendants are most often the victims of the financial inequities of our criminal justice system,” Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said in a statement. “I believe that in the coming days we will reach a consensus on this vital issue.”
The Connecticut bail industry signed off during the regular session on legislation eliminating bail for most misdemeanors after the administration agreed to drop a provision that would have created an alternative bail system for more serious crimes.