Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is hoping the legislature gives his criminal justice initiative a second look next week, but as of Friday there’s been no date scheduled.
Malloy, whose office has been sending out daily emails with information about the pre-trial population sitting in Connecticut’s prisons and jails unable to make bail, has been out at events around the state and on radio shows explaining the legislation.
“Connecticut has a crime rate that is at a 48-year low. Recidivism is down. We are doing really good work in cutting crime and lowering our prison population at the same time. It saves money to do this right now,” Malloy told WTIC Radio Host Ray Dunaway on Wednesday. “It is costing us upwards of $33 million to incarcerate people basically because they’re poor.”
But Republican lawmakers, who are universally against the proposal because it would give protected status to individuals up to the age of 20, aren’t concerned necessarily with the governor’s attempt to reform the bail system.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he has “serious public safety concerns” about the “raise the age” portion of the proposal.
He said he’s not concerned about the governor’s attempt to release individuals accused of some misdemeanors out of jail on a promise-to-appear in court at a later date, but he has serious concerns about this attempt to raise the age at which people could still be considered juveniles and have cases of those under the age of 20 heard in juvenile court.
“Certainly young adults who make immature decisions should get a second chance. But to allow violent assaults, sex crimes, and child pornography charges to be reduced or erased is not a direction our state should move towards. Yet that is exactly what Gov. Malloy’s proposal would do,” Fasano said.
Not exactly, says Malloy’s top criminal adviser, Michael P. Lawlor.
Lawlor said a person between the ages of 18 and 20 who is arrested for a crime would need to apply for “youthful offender” status. Lawlor said the prosecutor and a judge would get to decide whether the individual should receive that status based on the crime they committed.
It’s the system that’s currently in place for juveniles under the age of 18.
Fasano listed a series of heinous crimes the court might be confronted with, such as “sex assault in the second degree, involving assaults on the mentally or physically disabled, incapacitated, sex assault in the third degree, meaning forcing another into sexual contact, and sex assault in the third degree with a firearm, using a gun to force another into sexual contact.”
None of those crimes, according to Lawlor, are specifically listed in the legislation as making an person ineligible for youthful offender status, but a judge and a prosecutor would have to decide if the individual should be accepted as a “youthful offender,” which means they would not serve more than four years and there would be no public record of their crime.
Lawlor said there are some categories of crime that would disqualify a person for youthful offender status, such as a previous conviction or if you’re considered a “serious juvenile offender.” He noted that in applying for the status a person is also giving up their right to a jury trial.
“I do not believe that a 20-year-old who sexually assaults a disabled person, who violates someone at gunpoint, or who lures a 12-year-old into sexual activity, should be tried as a youthful offender — allowing their record to be wiped clean and their name to never appear on any offender registry,” Fasano said. “That is a direct threat to public safety.”
Malloy is expected to discuss the legislation further Friday during a visit to the Hartford Police Department’s recently opened Real-Time Crime and Data Intelligence Center, which serves as a centralized technology facility, helping identify patterns to stop crime.
Over the past two days, Malloy has had some celebrity help in promoting the bill.
American entrepreneur Russell Simmons and CNN liberal commenter Van Jones have tweeted their support of the legislation over the past two days. It’s unclear if their tweets will influence any Democratic lawmakers who are on the fence about the legislation.
“There’s a BIG opportunity to pass MAJOR #CJReform in Connecticut. State Leg should move quickly, #PassSecondChance,” Jones tweeted. He also retweeted an editorial by the Yankee Institute in favor of bail reform that was posted by #cut50, which is bipartisan effort to smartly and safely reduce America’s incarcerated population by 50 percent over the next 10 years.
Simmons tweeted on Thursday “Connecticut should #PassSecondChance – @GovMalloyOffice’s #BailReform & #RaiseTheAge are a national model for 21st-century justice.”
Aside from arguments over the merits of the legislation, there’s also a fiscal note attached.
While there isn’t a specific line item in the 2017 budget that details the money the initiative would save the state, there are $15.8 million in savings attributed to the closure of a prison. About $13.4 million in savings comes from the Correction Department’s personal services line, which assumes overtime reductions will be achieved, and to a lesser extent there are some saving in inmate medical services, according to the Malloy administration.