In an appearance before a legislative committee, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy lobbied legislators Monday to support bail reforms that he says would minimize the number of defendants jailed before trial over their inability to afford bail.
“As we sit here today, hundreds of Connecticut residents are locked up, not because they are a dangerous threat, but because they are poor,” Malloy said. “No one should be sitting behind bars simply because they are poor.”
Malloy appeared before a joint meeting of the Connecticut Sentencing Commission and the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. The commission has recommended bail reforms similar to Malloy’s, which are now before the committee.
In exchanges with the Democratic governor, two Republican legislators said they supported the stated goal of Malloy’s bill, while expressing concerns about its impact on public safety. The bill would limit the use of bond for defendants charged with misdemeanors.
“I certainly wouldn’t want to see people who are too poor to post bail not be able to,” said Rep. David K. Labriola, R-Oxford. “However, in your comments, you didn’t focus as much upon the flight risk of a defendant or more importantly the threat to public safety. And this isn’t even a partisan issue.”
“I hear every word that you just said,” Malloy replied. “And, quite frankly, I agree with a number of those, where I have those very same concerns.”
Malloy noted that his proposal bars the setting of bond for misdemeanors, except for defendants with a history of missing court appearances or cases where a judge has made a finding that freeing a defendant without bond would pose a risk.
“I think we can get the right language. I think we can work it out,” Malloy said.
The bill also requires a judge to make a finding of a defendant’s ability to pay. It would allow judges to release a defendant on a cash deposit of 10 percent of the bond set, similar to the fee now charged by bail bond agents. The difference is the deposit would be refundable if the defendant met his court obligations, while a bond fee is not.
Rep. Richard A. Smith, R-New Fairfield, questioned Malloy about the need for the reforms, given that Connecticut has a comparatively low rate of defendants jailed while awaiting trial.
On any given day, Malloy said, there are at least 340 defendants held on bonds of no more than $2,000 on misdemeanors charges. He later said the number was closer to 500, a statistic disputed by the bail industry.
In written testimony submitted to the Judiciary Committee, the Bail Association of Connecticut said it agreed with Malloy that no one should be jailed over their inability to afford bail, but his bill “goes well beyond this laudable goal and attempts to provide a solution to a statistically non-existent problem.”
The bigger threat to the industry is the 10-percent cash option proposed by Malloy. The bail association said it would put 1,000 bond agents out of jobs by creating a competing system in which the defendants could get their money back if they met their court obligations.
Jeffrey J. Clayton of the American Bail Coalition, an industry group, said the knowledge that a bail bondsman will pursue a client who fails to appear is another incentive for defendants to keep their court dates.
Natasha M. Pierre, the state’s victim advocate and a member of the Sentencing Commission, said she opposed the governor’s bill over a provision that would require someone held on bail to be presented in court every 14 days for a bail review. The proceedings would be a burden to victims intent on tracking their cases.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative think tank, the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, both backed the governor’s bill
Malloy’s bail legislation was one of several criminal justice bills up for a public hearing Monday before the Judiciary Committee, including his proposal to expand the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts to defendants as old as age 20.
Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, held a press conference with Sgt. John Szewczyk, the president of the Hartford Police Union, and John Lahda, former executive director of the Board of Pardons and Paroles to make the case for his bill to curtail how the Department of Correction uses risk-reduction earned credits, commonly known as good-time credits in other prison systems.
Only inmates convicted of a half-dozen violent crimes are ineligible for the credits, meaning about 97 percent of all inmates discharged from Department of Correction custody or supervision earn some credits, according to data presented by Suzio.
Suzio’s proposal would bar any inmate convicted of a violent crime or drug dealing from receiving the credits, causing a sixfold increase in the number of ineligible inmates, according to Correction Commissioner Scott Semple.
Semple said the credits are harder to earn in Connecticut than in many states.
In Alabama, for example, inmates can shave 75 days off their sentences for every 30 days they serve. Under previous administrations in Connecticut, inmates serving long sentences could earn up to 15 days credit every month. The 2011 law creating the risk-reduction credits limited them to no more than five a month.