Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s new proposed criminal justice package provides a no-money bail stipulation for those accused of misdemeanors except in cases of violent crimes or when a judge decides otherwise. It also creates a new “young adults” category in which cases would remain confidential.
Malloy’s proposal to extend “juvenile” status for arrestees up to age 21 did not go over well in the legislature last year, so he pared it back this year. This year’s version defines young adult offenders as those ages 18 through 20 who are accused of committing all but the most serious crimes. They would fall under a hybrid setting, sitting in both the juvenile justice system and the adult system: Their criminal records would remain sealed but their court cases would be open—if you can find them.
Mike Lawlor, the governor’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy and former co-chair of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, explained how the governor’s criminal justice legislative efforts were tweaked this year during an appearance on WNHH radio’s “Legal Eagle” program.
Lawlor was asked how reporters or others would be able to follow a case in Superior Court if the case is not listed on a public court docket because these arrests are sealed. He observed that the courts are open to the public. Asked how anyone would be able to locate a court hearing for an anonymous defendant, Lawlor did not say.
This year, Lawlor said, “we separated the two issues,” in part because each one is complicated and difficult. The idea of treating young adults up to the age of 21 as juveniles with regard to certain crimes had raised eyebrows among state legislators last year.
So this year the governor proposed reducing the age to 20 and decided to open the court proceedings while at the same time allowing young defendants to hide their criminal records from public examination. The governor believes that young men and women should not be defined by actions created by immature adolescent brains, Lawlor said. Early criminal activity and convictions have kept adolescents from getting jobs and housing.
Connecticut had previously raised the age for adult prosecution to 18. This proposed legislation extends it to 20. Lawlor said arrests have plummeted as these types of cases are decided in juvenile courts. Prison costs have been greatly reduced and the crime rate in Connecticut has continued to decline.
Update on Bail
A year ago the governor asked the state’s Sentencing Commission to recommend changes in the bail system. Lawlor said a number of states have changed bail rules when it comes to misdemeanors.
“The Sentencing Commission, which consists of criminal justice experts from all parts of the criminal justice system, is on board for bail reform,” Lawlor said. “And our juvenile bill, if adopted would make us the first state in the country to treat 18-20 year olds as juveniles.” This bill does not apply to serious felonies.
Lawlor said the Sentencing Commission consensus is to de-emphasize money bail for misdemeanors. “Courts are starting to rule it is unconstitutional to hold people in jail because they can’t afford bail,” he added.
“A lot of people are sitting in jail for relatively low-level crimes. On any given day there may be people charged with nuisance crimes. Many are mentally ill. These are minor cases. A day in jail costs about $168. These are people with high needs who are low risk. Their health needs are considerable.
“If they are in jail, they lose their jobs, their housing, even if it is only for three days. Then the risk of committing crimes goes up.”
Click on or download the above audio file to listen to the full WNHH radio interview, which includes a discussion about President Trump’s immigration policies and their impact on state and local police.