Thousands of people are in pretrial detention in Connecticut every day, and over 500 are held on bonds of $20,000 or less because they cannot pay bail bondsmen their fees, which are typically 10 percent, to get out of jail. Connecticut is considering reforms that would reduce the number of people held in jail because they are unable to post bail.
Those who are unable to raise bail are disproportionately minorities. Over the past 20 years, the amount of time they spend detained prior to trial has grown from two weeks to almost two months.
Governor Dannel P. Malloy and members of his administration believe too many people are being held in jail who do not pose a risk to the community. The state is working with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to generate ideas for reforms that would be in line with Malloy’s Second Chance Society initiative, which reduced some drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for some drug-related crimes.
The state of Connecticut received a $150,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation in May to create a plan by December to reform the state’s jail system. The plan would include pretrial detention and people serving short sentences. Connecticut is also vying to be one of 10 jurisdictions to receive up to $4 million in grants to implement those plans.
The changes would help people who are arrested for crimes for which there is little or no evidence against them who are unable to raise the money needed to post bail. People in that situation sometimes plead guilty to crimes they did not commit in order to be released from jail.
The American Civil Liberties Union says changes are needed because the current bond system, which is meant to ensure that a defendant appears in court, is sometimes used by prosecutors to gain leverage to reach plea deals. The ACLU is encouraging Connecticut to replace most cash bonds with curfews, travel restrictions, or electronic monitoring.
Members of the bail bond industry are opposed to the changes. They believe the current system is working and that some people who have been accused of crimes do pose a danger to the public.
New Jersey amended its constitution in 2014 to eliminate traditional bail for most crimes. Prosecutors can hold some defendants charged with serious crimes without bail if a judge considers them dangerous.