Bail reform wins final passage in Senate

mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter coordinate which bills would get a vote.

Bail reforms intended to ensure that indigent defendants are not jailed simply for lack of resources won final passage in the Senate early Wednesday on a 29 to 7 vote.

“I think this is an enlightened piece of legislation,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed sweeping bail reforms that would have largely eliminated a role for bail bond agents, but settled for a compromise that won bipartisan support and acceptance from the bail industry.

“Reforming our criminal justice system is an issue with bipartisan support, and today’s vote by the state Senate reaffirms that,” Malloy said. “Across the nation, states are recognizing that the current system of bail is unconstitutional.”

The compromise package has the backing of the left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union and right-leaning Yankee Institute for Public Policy and would makes several changes to bail practices. Those include:

  • Barring judges from setting cash-only bails.
  • Restricting judges from setting bail for misdemeanors in most circumstances. They retain the discretion to impose bail for defendants with a record of not appearing in court or who are judged to be flight risks.
  • Accelerating bail redetermination hearings in misdemeanor cases.
  • Authorizing a study sought by the bail industry on the practicality of imposing a surcharge on bond agents’ clients to help indigent defendants.

The bill’s language was included in both the Democratic and Republican budget proposals unveiled earlier in the session. The package is projected to save the state $30 million over the next two fiscal years.

Poor people accused of crimes face the “extreme pressure” of worrying about their families and jobs after sitting in pretrial detention for several weeks, Looney said. “People should not be pressured to  accept plea deals under these  conditions because of their financial situation.”

“The reality is people with money don’t sit in prison,” said Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield.

Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, added that “probably the greatest part” of the bill is that it reduces case review periods from a maximum of 30 days down to 14.

The fact is that being incarcerated for as few as a couple of days can have a dramatic effect on that person’s ability to maintain housing, employment, and contact with their family – all of which are keys to ensuring people lead productive lives and that the cycle of crime and poverty does not perpetuate,” Malloy said. “This legislation builds upon our dramatic successes in leading the nation towards creating a fairer and more just criminal justice system.”

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