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Governor’s S.B. No. 18 – A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Connecticut’s Governor Malloy issued a press release last week announcing his new crime reduction initiative Second Chance 2.0.  In his press release Governor Malloy is quoted as saying crime is down, recidivism is down and prison population is down.  Astonishingly, after citing all this success, he says more reforms are needed. 

Who can argue against efforts or programs to facilitate a reduction in crime?  I’m all for it.  Where bail agents come into play is when those expensive programs didn’t work in some cases and someone did commit a crime, perhaps several of them and they were arrested.  That’s where bail agents enter the picture.  Bail agents work with family members and the defendant to make sure all appearances are made and justice is served.  So, why is there a need for a change in Connecticut’s current system of bail as proposed by Governor Malloy?

A new bill was filed yesterday as part of Governor Malloy’s reform initiative.  Governor’s S.B. No. 18 proposes to address the inability of poor people to afford bail.  S.B. No. 18 does this by proposing a move to a ten percent cash bail system exclusive of a bail bond alternative.  Ironically, an exclusive ten percent deposit bail program makes it more expensive to the defendant yet a less secure alternative.  Less secure because even with a ten percent cash deposit the remaining ninety percent of the bond remains unsecured and there is nobody to return the defendant to court in the event of a failure to appear.  More expense because, comparing apples to apples, purchasing a bail bond costs less.

Connecticut bail agents charge a premium of 10% on the first $5000 of bail and 7% on any amount above $5000.  Using a $10,000 bail amount as an example, the premium on a bail bond would be $850 whereas ten percent cash to the court would be $1000.  A bail agent can offer the defendant or family members a reasonable payment plan and obtain release from jail quickly.  Conversely, the court cannot offer payment plans on ten percent cash bail. Therefore, only the wealthiest defendants can post bail immediately while those with less means sit in jail for days or weeks trying to raise the money necessary to gain their freedom. 

S.B. No. 18 backers says ten percent bail is cheaper because the deposit is refundable.  That’s great, current law in Connecticut allows for the posting of a ten percent cash deposit in lieu of a bail bond.  One would assume those who can afford to pay the full ten percent up front have been doing so already.  So, why does this bill want to move to ten percent cash bail exclusively?  Money, plain and simple.  State Government wants to take money out of the pockets of bail agents forcing them to close their doors and put it in their own pockets.

What we have in S.B. No. 18 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  They want the public to believe a move to ten percent deposit bail is a magnanimous gesture on their part and cheaper and fairer for criminal offenders.  In reality it’s Government competing with private sector bail agents.  Only Government can sell something for ninety percent less than its private sector competitor and get away with it.  Only Government can take money from a consumer and not be required to pay any penalty for nonperformance, in this case a defendant’s failure to appear for court.

The cash deposit is refundable?  Sure, after they deduct fines and costs and the private attorney is paid the balance of their fee.

Before I can buy into the concept of S. B. No. 18, I would first want to expand and extend its perceived generosity and fairness and propose the following amendments.  In addition to refundable bail deposits I propose the exclusive use of public defenders with a refundable deposit for attorney fees, a refundable deposit for electronic monitoring bracelets and ignition interlock devices.  And refundable deposits for alcohol and anger management classes as well.

Of course, my proposed amendments will never be considered much less adopted because the ten percent cash bail exclusivity language is expressly directed at putting bail agents out of business by permitting the courts to take cash from criminal offenders sans the messy things like financial penalty for nonperformance and obligations to locate and return absconders to court.  Let’s face it, how do you think the wolf got the sheep’s clothing in the first place?  It ate the sheep.