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Public hearing on Connecticut cash bail reform shows deep divide

A bail bond office displays a sign near the Santa Ana Jail in Santa Ana, Calif. The most populous state in the nation passed a law to do away with money bail earlier this year.
Hector Mata
A bail bond office displays a sign.

Cash bail reform was up for debate at a Connecticut Judiciary public hearing on Monday.

A proposed amendment to the state's Practice Book would make it easier for individuals awaiting trial to stay out of jail.

The proposed change would lower the cash bail requirement from 10% to 7%. Defendants would only be required to pay if they were held on a bond higher than $50,000 — up from $20,000.

The money would be returned to defendants once they showed up for court appearances.

It’s in an effort to make the justice system more equitable.

University of Connecticut professor Anna VanCleave thinks the rule should be changed.

“When people have to spend several days gathering the funds necessary for release, the impacts can be devastating,” VanCleave said. “It can take only a few days of incarceration for an individual to lose their job, their apartment or their children, and even a few days of pretrial incarceration can have long-term downstream consequences.”

Brent Thompson is a Connecticut bail enforcement agent. He says the rule should not be changed.

“Cash bail is a complete travesty,” Thompson said. “Crime has been on the rise for years. Most recently, New York has changed their bail laws. Again, crime is on the rise. New Jersey and California have done the same. Same results. I personally see a pattern.”

Connecticut House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora said in a statement that the state is already facing a crime increase, and changing cash bail requirements would make it worse.

“Whether it be car-jackings of defenseless, elderly women in West Hartford, Wethersfield or Hamden, or heinous driveway assaults such as the recent crime in Rocky Hill that gained national attention, every day residents awake to headlines and television reports that raise alarm about the types of crime they’re unaccustomed to seeing in their communities,” Candelora said. “The last thing that residents, let alone crime victims, expect to see is our judicial system make life easier for criminals. Yet, that’s exactly what the proposed Practice Book changes on bail would do.”

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.