Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Correction Commissioner Scott Semple met with inmates of Hartford Correctional Center on Wednesday in their continued effort to get the General Assembly to adopt a package of criminal justice reforms.
“You cost me $168 a day,” Malloy told the five inmates, “I’d be happier if you weren’t here. You’d be happier if you weren’t here.”
The bill, which both the House and the Senate have failed to act upon thus far, would eliminate bail bonds for nonviolent misdemeanor offenders and allow 18- to 20-year-olds to be tried as juveniles.
Malloy says the bill would reduce the strain on the Correction Department and allow them to close a prison, saving $15.7 million dollars a year. Although the General Assembly has not set a date to vote on the bill, the 2017 state budget passed earlier this month assumes that these savings will be in place.
“We run a big Correction Department — over 15,000 people in our system,” Malloy said. “Each of those numbers is an individual story.” The state’s incarcerated population has risen from about 8,000 in 1990 and only began to decline several years ago when the state began reforming mandatory minimums enacted in the 1990s.
“Lots of people keep going to jail for petty stuff and getting hard bonds,” said Kenneth Corales, a 20-year-old inmate who first went to prison at 18.
Just under 1,000 people between the ages of 18 and 21 were imprisoned in Connecticut earlier this year. Under Malloy’s Second Chance 2.0 legislation, offenders under 20 with less serious charges would be eligible to have their case processed in the juvenile system, where records are sealed.
“It’s hard to get a job out there,” said Richard Shea, another inmate.
“People make mistakes when they’re young. We’re trying to take steps to keep people from being permanently burdened and society permanently burdened,” Malloy said.
But on Wednesday the governor was preaching to the choir, so to speak.
Making his case to lawmakers has been difficult. Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed misgivings about the bill, particularly expanding juvenile treatment to 20-year-olds. Senate Minority leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, suggested that the bill be split so lawmakers could vote on the less controversial bail reform provision separately.
Malloy wouldn’t comment specifically on whether he was open to the compromise, but said “we’re open to dialogue. These discussions can take place on a formal basis.”
The bail reform provision in the bill would mandate that nonviolent misdemeanor suspects be released on non-financial conditions only, in effect ending the monetary bail system for misdemeanors.
Michael P. Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice policy, said that there were a number of non-financial conditions that can be used to make sure people appear in court. Connecticut has one of the country’s few pretrial services systems, which works one-on-one to make sure people meet their pretrial and court obligations.
“They can do whatever they think is appropriate on a case-by-case basis” to make sure people make their court dates, Lawlor said, from phone calls and text messages to working with local police.
Lawlor also pointed out that the failure-to-appear rate for people released on a promise-to-appear in court was slightly lower than for those released on a surety bond. Failure-to-appear rates were about 10 percent across the board for both financial and non-financial release conditions.
Malloy said that on average there are about 1,100 people in Connecticut awaiting trial in jail because they can’t afford to pay their bonds.
The administration is looking to build on earlier criminal justice and sentencing reforms. Connecticut’s prison population has dropped 14 percent since 2010 and 25 percent fewer people are being sent to jail than in 2009.
Juvenile incarceration in particular has dropped steeply in Connecticut since 2009. In 2012, the state began treating 16- and 17-year-old offenders, who had previously been automatically tried in adult court, as juveniles. There were about 80 prisoners under 18 in Connecticut last year, a 75 percent decrease from 2009.
Lawlor said these results have encouraged the administration to continue to raise the age.