HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is renewing his efforts to eliminate the need for bail for low-level offenses.
The governor, in a presentation to the Sentencing Commission at the Legislative Office Building Monday, said: “No one should be sitting behind bars simply because they are poor.”
He went on: “As we sit here today, hundreds of Connecticut residents are locked up. Not because they are a dangerous threat, but because they are poor and can’t afford to make bail. My office is prepared to work with all partners for the good of the state, because in the end being poor should not be a crime.”
Malloy has been unsuccessful so far in getting the General Assembly to back his so-called Second Chance 2.0 legislation, which would eliminate bail bonds for nonviolent misdemeanor offenders and allow 18- to 20-year-olds to be tried as juveniles.
It’s the latter part of Malloy’s proposed legislation that caused most lawmakers to withhold their support for the legislation, but in the end even the elimination of bail bonds became contentious.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, fearing it would cost them votes last November, believed the legislation was soft on those convicted of crimes. Some were also hesitant about giving younger people the ability to have their cases decided in a juvenile court that’s not open to the public.
But the governor is trying again.
Malloy said last year he asked the Sentencing Commission to study and make recommendations on how to reform Connecticut’s current bail system.
Among the commission’s findings, Malloy said, is that 90 percent of the people who are arrested for crimes are released before their arraignment.
“Most people are able to make bail on their own,” Malloy said. “They do it with the help of family or friends, or by hiring a bail bondsman.”
The Bail Association of Connecticut is again opposing the legislation saying it “attempts to provide a solution to a statistically nonexistent problem.”
In written testimony, the group says there aren’t large numbers of non-violent low level offenders being incarcerated due to their inability to post bail.
Malloy’s bill requires a judge to make a finding of a defendant’s ability to pay. It would allow judges to release a defendant on a cash deposit of 10 percent of the bond and that deposit would be refundable if the defendant shows up for his court dates.
Currently, that fee now charged by bail bondsmen is not refundable.
Rep. David Labriola, R-Naugatuck, had some concerns about Malloy’s proposal, asking the governor whether letting more people out on bail “might provide a flight risk or reflect a threat to public safety.”
Malloy answered that he understood, and shared, Labriola’s concern, but “I believe that we can work together in the interest of a fairer and equitable risk based bail system.”
Rep. Richard Smith, R-New Milford, asked Malloy how the system would handle someone who is “a dangerous threat to a spouse.”
The governor answered that it should be a judge’s role to determine “the finding of a threat” and in the case that he or she feels there is one, not allow bail to be set.
Malloy also used his time in front of the commission to give another push to one of his other initiatives — legislation to once again try to get young adults between the ages of 18 to 20 into the juvenile justice system for minor crimes.
A similar attempt also didn’t make it through last year’s General Assembly. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, again because they were fearful it would cost them votes in the November election, believed the legislation was soft on those convicted of crimes.
Malloy said the youthful offender status he is proposing does not apply to the most serious crimes, including Class A felonies and other crimes spelled out in statute. Motor vehicle crimes will also remain in adult court.
Malloy said the state has “the lowest crime rate in 50 years and the lowest prison population in 23 years.”