Connecticut has long been known as the land of second chances. I am often asked, while conversing with Massachusetts’ defense attorneys, whether the countless prison diversionary programs Connecticut offers to lawbreakers are reality or just an old folktale. As I list the various programs, those lawyers look at me in disbelief. The fact is that the number of nonprison options in the Connecticut criminal justice system far outnumber those in most other states. It’s simply not true that first-time or petty offenders are being hauled off to jails and locked into a lifetime of darkness by the truckload; those falsehoods are being peddled by those whose agenda is to shrink the Connecticut criminal justice system.
There’s real danger embedded in Gov. Daniel Malloy’s lengthy Second Chance 2.0 proposal that’s now before the legislature. While most of us were busy working and tending to our daily lives, the Malloy administration was coming up with ideas for whittling away at the justice system as we once knew it.
What might the “justice system” look like if Second Chance 2.0 is approved?
First, set aside the bill’s magical wand making 20-year-old criminal offenders still “juveniles” in the eyes of the law. (I mean, really, how exactly is a 13-year-old the same as a 21-year-old? And let’s not forget that crime victims are, for the most part, left out of the juvenile justice system, unable to participate in the ever-so-secretive juvenile courts.) The bottom line seems to be that various committees and commissions seem intent on morphing the justice system into an oversized day camp for criminals. Perhaps we can legislate handing out shiny blue metallic stars for those who complete all the probationary sentences being envisioned. Also troubling is the proposal to eliminate bail for a wide range of misdemeanor offenses. It is unclear how simply keeping people out of the justice system will rehabilitate offenders or, more important, keep our communities safe.
Most of the arguments in favor of Malloy’s Second Chance 2.0 are based on fiction or myth. It’s become almost conventional wisdom that prisons are full of accused jaywalkers who simply can’t afford to pay bail. Despite the rhetoric, there is currently mechanisms to allow offenders who cannot afford their bail to have their cases reviewed in court: it’s called a bail hearing. Next, the idea that all misdemeanors are all minor offenses, and thus no bail is necessary, is ignorant at best. There are, on the books, many misdemeanor offenses whose perpetrators are a threat to the community, including assaulting a blind, disabled or elderly person; fourth-degree sex assault; custodial interference; and let’s not forget drunken driving.
To be sure, the bail process and the bail bondman serve an important public safety function that seems to have gone unnoticed among the Malloy administration and legislators. Every day, bail bondmen hold accountable criminal defendants and ensure their presence in court. The bondmen are often responsible for going into the community to retrieve defendants who have jumped bail. On average, the bail bond industry in Connecticut arrests approximately 3,000 bail jumpers annually (one-third charged with felonies and the rest with misdemeanor offenses) at no cost to the state. Unfortunately, the community often assumes the bail bonds industry is simply a cash-in, cash-out industry. However, the industry offers an extra measure of accountability to an already overwhelmed justice system. The bail bond community works hand-in-hand with authorities to locate a defendant who is on the run, thereby providing an additional safety mechanism for the crime victim community. These offender capture units are 100 percent sponsored and paid by the bail bonds industry. There are no equivalent capturing units established by the governor’s bill. Simply put, those responsibilities will largely be transferred to the state and yet there are no funds being attributed to these services.
Also a myth is this idea that people arrested for supposedly minor offenses will show up in court because they have ties to the community, through family and jobs. The fact is that, in Connecticut, approximately 20,000 individuals are charged with failure to appear (FTA) every year. And that number underestimates the problem. Most offenders are not charged with FTA until they have failed to show up in court twice. The first FTA usually warrants only a letter, reminding the offender they have missed a court date and asking them to appear at a future date. With the so-called bail reforms, it seems highly likely that the number of FTAs will skyrocket, as there will be no monetary incentive to keep a court date.
So maybe what the 2.0 in Second Chance 2.0 means is that the state will double the number of outlaws roaming free, unaccountable for their criminal enterprises. •
Michelle Cruz is available for media appearances, conferences, and presentations. Please contact her through her website AttorneyMichelleCruz.Com or contact ImaginePublicity Phone: 843-808-0859 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was originally posted at Connecticut Law Tribune