For Immediate Release: 3/8/2016
Contact: Zachary Janowski
Mobile: (860) 384-5777
Email: Zach@YankeeInstitute.org

Bail Reform Isn’t Just for Gov. Malloy
Proposed Reforms Would Increase Accountability and Public Safety While Saving Taxpayer Money

March 8 – Connecticut’s pre-trial system – the limbo between arrest and verdict – is based on money, but it shouldn’t be.

In a new policy brief, Reforming the Constitution State’s Pre-Trial System, Yankee Institute and Reason Foundation propose a new approach to criminal justice, based on risk rather than on financial resources. Instead of a bail system relying exclusively on bond  – from $500 for minor offenses to $1 million for serious wrongdoing  – the new system would apply a range of more cost-effective monitoring techniques, depending on an individual’s assessed flight risk and threat to public safety.

The riskiest defendants would remain in jail until trial. Below that level of risk, different forms of monitoring would replace cash bail. Some defendants would go into halfway houses, while others would submit to electronic monitoring or in-person check-ins.

“This is a whole new way of looking at how we treat suspects before they go to trial,” said Suzanne Bates, Yankee Institute director of policy and legislative outreach. “The primary goal is to maintain public safety, while also introducing a more streamlined, efficient approach to bail.”

Both Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy and Republican Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano have proposed bail reform, highlighting the need for better policies in this area.

A better bail system would be more accountable, increase public safety and save taxpayer money.

Among other proposals, the brief suggests eliminating jail before trial if a suspect faces charges that couldn’t lead to a jail sentence.

The current system relies on a categorical approach based on the crime alleged. The brief suggests replacing the current system with an approach based on risk to the community and the use of other forms of monitoring to reduce risk.

The risk-based approach would make it less costly for low-risk, non-violent offenders to avoid jail while awaiting trial. Under the current system, many low-risk defendants sit in jail because they lack the means to post even modest bail, while high-risk offenders can avoid any monitoring if they have enough money to post bail.

“We can make our communities safer by focusing Department of Correction funding on high-risk offenders,” said Bates. “The more money we spend on jail time for people who shouldn’t be there, the less money we have to keep truly dangerous people off the streets.”

“We’re letting high-risk offenders go free if they can pay the money,” Bates said. “Our system should be more focused on keeping the public safe.”

“Sometimes defendants accused of low-level crimes will be forced to sit in jail until their trial because they can’t post bail, even if their crimes don’t actually carry any jail time post conviction,” said Lauren Krisai, brief co-author and director of criminal justice reform at the Reason Foundation. “Putting more people in jail than necessary is costly, hurts our principles as a country, puts future careers in jeopardy and breaks up families.”

Right now the pre-trial system isn’t accountable. “We found evidence of defendants charged with sex offenses offered the same bail as those charged with petty theft,” said Thurston Powers, Yankee Institute policy associate and co-author of the brief. “The system is so convoluted it’s difficult to find out why any given decision is made.”

After an arrest, police departments set the first bail. Judicial Branch employees interview the defendant and propose an amount to a judge. The judge makes a final decision after input from both the prosecutor and the defendant’s lawyer.

“Right now, judges make decisions without having good information about risk to the community,” Krisai said. “They’re flying blind.”

The Hartford-based Yankee Institute for Public Policy works to transform Connecticut into a place where everyone is free to succeed.

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