Sentencing Commission hears testimony about “horribly broken” bail system
In tear-filled testimony, Holly Tucker of New Haven recounted how she was arrested following a traffic infraction and had her bail set at $25,000. She was forced to spend the night in jail away from her daughter before getting out on a written promise to appear the following day.
Tucker was just one of many who crowded into the public hearing before the Sentencing Commission, which was tasked by Gov. Dannel Malloy to explore reforms to Connecticut’s bail system.
Reginald Betts, a graduate of Yale School of Law who represents defendants in New Haven courts as part of Yale’s Arthur Liman Public Interest Program, said Connecticut’s bail system is “horribly broken” and “a complete farce.”
An individual who is arrested may pay a fee – bail – in order to be released to await a their court date. Because bail is often very high, many people get a bail bond – essentially a loan from a bail agency. Bail bonds generally require 10 percent of the bail amount as a non-refundable fee paid for by the arrested individual. A bail bond for $20,000, therefore, would require the individual to pay a $2,000 fee to the bail bond agency.
At issue is the setting of bails for low-level and misdemeanor crimes that are far too high for defendants who live in poverty-stricken urban areas to pay. Unable to afford the bail – or even a bail bond – the defendant is held in jail until his or her court hearing, ostensibly jailing them before they have been proven guilty and sometimes for crimes that do not carry a prison sentence.
Suzanne Bates and Thurston Powers, testifying on behalf of the Yankee Institute, argued that holding low level offenders who can’t afford bond is costing the state more money. Bates and Powers testified that it costs $120 per day to jail individuals who can’t afford bond and only cost $7 per day to supervise that individual pre-trial.
A study conducted by the Yankee Institute found that 690 people were being held pre-trial whose bail was less than $20,000 – the lowest financial bond threshold for Connecticut. Those individuals could not afford the $2,000 or less necessary to secure bail from a bail bondsman.
The U.S. Department of Justice has ruled that inability to pay bail is insufficient justification for pre-trial detention under the 14th amendment.
Andrew Marochinni, president of the Bail Association of Connecticut, argued that Connecticut’s bail system is “one of the best in the country,” and that their own study found that 77 percent of individuals being held pre-trial had three or more prior convictions.
Together with former Bail Association president and owner of 3-D Bail Bonds of Hartford, Andrew Bloom, Marochinni pitched the idea of creating a separate fund that could pay the bail of individuals unable to afford a bail bond.
“We would have to determine who of those individuals would be worthy of the program,” Marochinni said.
They claimed that a fee attached to a bond could generate “$300,000 for that fund to operate in the first year alone.” However, both conceded that it was “a work in progress,” and had yet to work out the details of how such a fund would be administered and by whom.
The Sentencing Commission was created by Public Act 10-129 in 2011 to “review the existing criminal sentencing structure in the state and any proposed changes,” according to the commission’s 2013 report.
Gov. Malloy wrote to the commission in November of 2015 asking them to examine the bail bond system and “Connecticut’s numerous diversionary programs.” Thursday’s public hearing was part of the investigation into the bail bond system and potential reforms.
In his letter to the commission, Gov. Malloy wrote that the “approximately six-hundred” people being held in jail on bonds of less than $20,000 “are not incarcerated because they are dangerous or a flight risk but merely because they are poor.”