Gov. Dannel P. Malloy continues to hold almost daily press conferences about his legislative proposal to change how bail works and how 18- to 20-year-olds who commit non-violent crimes should be treated.
The House and the Senate are not scheduled to return this week to vote on the package. And Malloy was unable to say whether the General Assembly would definitely return to approve a package in the future.
In the meantime, Malloy is trying to do what he can to counter the critics.
“They’re trying to make it sound like we are trying to get people out of jail who are committing crimes,” Malloy said. “Ninety percent of the people who commit exactly the same crime get out of jail because they are not poor.”
Malloy is referring to individuals who are arrested for misdemeanors and get out of jail because they are able to post the $250 to $2,000 bond.
Malloy said the only ones who are stuck in jail and costing the state $168 per person, per day, are “poor people.” Under Malloy’s proposal those individuals would be released on a promise to appear.
“Poor people shouldn’t be treated differently simply because they’re poor,” Malloy said.
And most of those poor people are disproportionately black and Hispanic, Malloy added.
During Monday’s press conference with Connecticut NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile, the governor focused on the 90 percent of people arrested on misdemeanors, who are getting out of jail and waiting for their court dates outside a jail cell. That’s 90 percent of 101,000 individuals arrested last year for misdemeanors who left jail because they were able to post a bail.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said last week that it was largely up to the governor to convince his members this was a good piece of legislation.
Sharkey said his lawmakers need to understand the legislation better before they vote, and if it’s good legislation then it will get a vote.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, has said it’s not good legislation.
“This bill is having a hard time because it’s simply bad policy,” Fasano said. “People are afraid to vote in favor of it because they know it’s bad policy and they will have to answer to the public on why they voted for a bad bill.”
He said if Malloy agreed to drop the changes to the juvenile court system, he could get the legislation passed.
“Republicans and Democrats agree that the poor should not be kept in jail simply because they are poor,” Fasano said. “If Gov. Malloy truly cared about helping the poor who get stuck in jail because they can’t afford to pay small bonds, he would drop the ‘raise the age’ portion of his proposal which has raised serious concerns amongst Republicans and Democrats alike.”
Malloy said he’s speaking with individual lawmakers who have expressed concern about the legislation, but he’s not going to negotiate changes to the package through the news media.
“If it’s our intention to continue to incarcerate people solely because they’re poor, then we’re going to have to find a different way to pay for it,” Malloy said.
He said closing a prison and saving $15 million will be all but impossible without this legislation.
Esdaile said the majority of the phone calls that come into the 16 NAACP branch offices come from individuals who are searching for a job but are having a hard time finding one because they have a criminal record.
“A lot of the situations we’re facing, we’re handcuffed,” Esdaile said. “When a young person has a felony it’s very, very hard to get them re-entered into society.”
He said they are happy Malloy’s legislation would allow the court to treat 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old, non-violent offenders as juveniles. He said research shows young people don’t process information in the same way as adults and they make “impulsive decisions that shouldn’t follow them for the rest of their lives.”
He said those under 20 would still be arrested, prosecuted, and held accountable for their behavior, but “they would enjoy the protection” of sealed court records.
“Those burdened with a criminal record are disenfranchised from society,” Esdaile said.
He said in the north end of Hartford or the Newhallville section of New Haven, there are probably 200 kids running around the streets committing crimes. Of those he said there are about 15 who are “hardcore criminals,” but that means there are 185 who are making a mistake by hanging out with the wrong crowd.
“We’re trying to work with those 185 kids and get them redirected,” Esdaile said.
It’s unclear if Malloy will find enough support in the House to get the legislation passed before July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. The Senate is expected to be a tie vote and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman would break the tie, but it’s unlikely the Senate would call the legislation for a vote if it was unclear the House had enough support to pass it.