HARTFORD, CT — The House approved, 88-62, a revised version of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s bill to change the bail bond system and reduce the pre-trial population Saturday.
Only 11 Republicans voted in favor of the measure that would eliminate cash bail and prohibit a court from imposing financial conditions on the release of most people charged with misdemeanors. The legislation excludes from the provision those charged with family violence. It also gives the court discretion over cases where there is likely a risk the person wouldn’t appear for their court date. Most individuals would be released on a promise to appear.
Two Democrats joined 60 Republicans Saturday in opposing the measure, which was included in the budget proposal for all four caucuses because it saves the state $14.9 million in 2018 and $16.4 million in 2019.
It’s estimated there are about 3,100 pre-sentence inmates being held because they can’t post bail, but only about 388 are non-violent and would qualify under the legislation.
Proponents said the legislation is necessary because at the moment wealthier individuals can buy their way out of jail even if the arrest is for a serious crime, while poorer individuals remain in jail for a less serious crime. Aside from costing the state while sitting in jail, proponents say the current use of pre-trial detention also disrupts individuals’ work and family lives, and imposes costs on a society that wishes to see these individuals become productive members of their communities.
It had broad support from criminal justice groups, the American Civil Liberties Union, Connecticut’s Sentencing Commission, and the Yankee Institute for Public Policy.
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane opposed the proposal.
During a public hearing on the bill, Kane said there needs to be a better understanding of why an individual is being held pre-trial. He said sometimes there are more serious felony charges underlying the misdemeanor offense.
Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, said he believes there’s enough judicial discretion to handle those types of situations.
“This bill puts public safety front and center,” Tong said. “I don’t believe it makes people in this state less safe.”
However, those who opposed the measure listed several offenses that would be considered misdemeanors under the legislation and questioned the wisdom of allowing these individuals to get out of jail before their court date.
Rep. Stephanie Cummings, R-Waterbury, said she can’t support the legislation because it means individuals could be immediately released even if they are charged with “assault on an elderly person, disabled person, pregnant person, or person with intellectual disabilities — charges of strangulation in the third degree, rioting in the first degree, inciting a riot and stalking in the second degree.”
“We can go through the parade of horribles, like we do in law school and find a sliver of probability or possibility that something might happen,” Tong said, adding that there are vagaries in the criminal justice system and “people who have done very bad things may avoid detention.”
He said there is discretion for judges at several points in the legislation.
Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, said the judge still has discretion to go beyond what is laid out in the legislation.
“None of us wanted to see an individual in prison solely because they were unable to financially bail themselves out,” she said.
Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, said she thinks it’s one of the most important pieces of social justice legislation the General Assembly will tackle this year.
“Across the country, courts are ruling the current system of bail is unconstitutional,” Malloy said in a statement following passage. “This legislation brings us into compliance with those rulings. The fact is that there are hundreds of individuals currently locked up in Connecticut jails, not because they are threat to society, but simply because they are poor. And being poor should never be a crime.”
The bill now goes to the Senate.