It’s not everyday the conservative Yankee Institute and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration agree on an issue.
But when it comes to reforming the bail bond industry the two are on the same side.
The Yankee Institute hosted a panel discussion and released a report highlighting the need to reform the bail bond industry. The report concludes, much like the Malloy administration concluded, it’s costing taxpayers thousands of dollars to allow poor defendants, charged with low level crimes sit in a jail until their trial date.
Earlier this year, Malloy said there are too many Connecticut residents sitting in jail because they can’t post a $20,000 bond, which requires them to pay between $250 and $2,000.
“These are individuals who are often drug addicted, mentally ill, or just plain poor, who have been charged with minor, often misdemeanor charges,” Malloy said.
Malloy wants to let these individuals go on a promise-to-appear in court.
The Yankee Institute agrees.
Suzanne Bates, policy director of the Yankee Institute, who moderated Wednesday’s panel discussion, said bail reform has been a bipartisan issue in many states.
“We want justice, equity and liberty,” Bates said. Criminal justice reform “addresses key issues for the left and the right,” she added.
Michael Lawlor, Malloy’s criminal justice adviser, said criminal justice reform brings together fiscal conservatives, Evangelicals, and social progressives.
“There’s a unity around the thought that the criminal justice system is making things worse, not better,” Lawlor said.
He said that fiscal conservatives are behind the issue because the money isn’t being spent efficiently, Evangelicals believe in redemption, and people like Malloy would say it’s not fair and there’s racial disparities.
“Nationally, it’s the conservatives leading this charge and the Democrats are nervously following along,” Lawlor said.
Nationally, conservative leaders like Newt Gingrich, Ed Meese, Grover Norquist, Rick Perry, and Jeb Bush have signed a statement of principles by an organization called “Right on Crime.”
“Conservatives are known for being tough on crime, but we must also be tough on criminal justice spending. That means demanding more cost-effective approaches that enhance public safety,” the statement reads in part.
Lawlor said Connecticut Republicans seem to be a little “behind the curve” on the issue, except for Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, who introduced his own legislation regarding bail reform this year.
Fasano, who was on the panel Wednesday, said he likes some of Malloy’s proposal regarding reforming the bail bond system regarding releasing low-level, poor defendants on a promise-to-appear. However, he doesn’t understand who will be responsible for bringing the defendants who opt to pay a 10 percent cash bond to the court, if they skip on their court date.
Fasano said he understands a rearrest warrant would be issued for the person, but there’s no other guarantee a person will show up in court. He said right now the bail bondsmen who hire people to go get the defendant and bring them to court or a law enforcement agency.
“It can’t be the state,” Fasano said.
Under Malloy’s legislation, if those defendants keep their court date, they will get the money they paid back once their case is resolved.
The Malloy administration believes that the prospect of have the 10 percent cash returned at the end of the case will serve as a powerful incentive. They also plan on amending the language in the bill to give the defendant the option to pay the 10 percent cash bond or use a bail bondsman.
Drew Bloom, founder and past president of the Bail Association of Connecticut, said they’ve been told the governor’s bill won’t put them out of business, but there were more than 16,000 surety bonds posted on misdemeanors last year. He said that would eliminate about 57 percent of their business.
However, he said their real objection is to the 10 percent cash bond option, which would be a default option for defendants.
He said they should wait until the Sentencing Commission finishes its report in January 2017 before they move forward with potentially destroying an industry that employs about 1,000 people in the state.
The Judiciary Committee forwarded Malloy’s legislation this week to the Senate. The vote was largely along party lines with all but one Democrat voting in favor and Republicans voting against. However, some of the objections were related to part of the legislation which raises the age juveniles are treated as adults. That part of the bill would close some court proceedings for youth between the ages of 18 and 20.