With a vote on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed criminal justice reforms put on hold, both the governor and Senate Minority Leader Leonard A. Fasano are using the additional time to try to shape public opinion.
Malloy has made several public appearances to advocate for the bill since the legislature broke from a special session without voting on Malloy’s changes.
His press office has also been releasing daily statistics about potential savings from his proposal — he wants modify the use of bail and raise the age for youthful offenders — that the state is not realizing without approval of his bill.
Malloy said during an appearance on WTIC-AM NEwsTalk 1080’s “Mornings with Ray Dunaway” that his latest proposal is part of a series of policy changes that have reduced recidivism and dropped Connecticut’s crime rate to a 48-year low.
“We are doing really good work in cutting crime and lowering our prison population at the same time,” Malloy said. “It saves money to do this right now. It is costing us upwards of $33 million to incarcerate people basically because they’re poor.”
The House is expected to return as early as this upcoming week, although no date has been set, and Fasano, R-North Haven, has been publicly sparring with Malloy about the plan, dubbed Second Chance 2.0.
Fasano said he supports some reforms to the state’s rules regarding bail for pretrial defendants, but warned that raising the age limit for youthful offenders could allow some young adults to skirt tougher penalties for serious conduct.
Malloy’s proposal would extend protections for so-called youthful offenders to a new group of “young adults” that would include defendants between the ages of 18 and 20. The initiative would be introduced gradually.
Information on arrests of youthful offenders, including charges and support allegations, are not made public, and dispositions are also shielded. The same would occur for those who qualify as young adults.
Those charged with Class A felonies and defendants previously tried as an adult or serious juvenile offender would be disqualified, instead transferring to adult court, and judges would have the discretion to transfer other cases based on the details.
Mike Lawlor, Office of Policy and Management undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning, said some lawmakers have asked that the bill list other crimes that would automatically transfer to adult court, but the bill gives judges more flexibility.
“The point is you always want to treat every case differently, because there are cases where the charges don’t jump off the page as outrageously serious, where you might be dealing with a very high-risk, serious situation,” he said. “And, by the same token, you might have stuff where the charges look pretty bad, but in reality it’s a one-time situation that can be dealt with easily without sending a guy to prison.”
Fasano said he has concerns that Class B and C felony charges, some of them potentially serious, don’t expressly prohibit someone from qualifying for youthful offender status.
Along with a lack of public disclosure, defendants tried as youthful offenders face a maximum of four years in jail. Currently, juveniles tried in adult court because the severity of their charges largely face the same penalties as adults.
Fasano said the state already offers diversionary programs that allow adults of any age to have charges publicly erased upon successful completion.
“I think we do give people chances,” said Fasano, who has supported past criminal justice reforms. “I think we can work in this area to do better.”
He also suggested the state first let the Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee review the proposal and determine which offenses should qualify for young adult status.
Lawlor said the intent of the bill is to keep arrests of many young adults from ever becoming public, though, noting the knowledge of an arrest can hurt someone’s ability to get a job, housing, or other opportunities.
The other portion of Malloy’s bill would prohibit judges from setting monetary bail for defendants charged solely of misdemeanors.
Exceptions occur for defendants charged with family violence offenses or failure to appear, or when a judge determines they pose a risk to themselves or others.
Malloy said the change is needed to address defendants who are held in jail during the pendency of their cases because they can’t afford to post bail, and not because they pose any kind of safety risk.
According to the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, the state spends an average of $168 per day per inmate. Malloy’s press office estimates that the state could have saved $291,648 between Monday and Friday had the policy already been in place.
Malloy projects the change will save Connecticut $15 million, although OFA said the proposal will have no impact next fiscal year because it doesn’t take effect until July 1, 2017.
Questions remain, though, about whether Malloy has enough legislative support to get approval of his proposal.
Senate leaders said they didn’t want to engage in a lengthy debate — Republicans have filed nearly 40 amendments between the two chambers — without knowing House Democrats will approve the bill.
A spokesman for House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said Friday that “members are taking the time to fully review and understand the bill.”
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