At the May 12 Criminal Justice Commission meeting to interview candidates for Connecticut’s chief prosecutor, Judge Andrew J. McDonald asked New Haven State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin, “Do you know you that 40% of our prison population are people who have not been sentenced? of any crime, they are in pre-trial detention? »
Griffin responded that the challenges of COVID-19 have impacted the courts’ ability to process cases since many courthouses have been closed during the pandemic. COVID-19, however, fails to address the real reason most people are incarcerated without a conviction long before the pandemic began: they lack the resources to afford their freedom.
Connecticut has a reputation for being a great state to live in. Expensive homes, expensive property taxes, expensive gas, expensive groceries, expensive health care – and leave freedom for those with the means and resources to pay, but incarceration for those who can’t. Basing an innocent person’s freedom (because everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty) on that person’s ability to post bail is fundamentally wrong and unjust. Connecticut should stop using the money to incarcerate people who have less.
During the May 12 hearing, Judge McDonald referred to two recent cases, one in Stamford where a 15-year-old accused of sexual assault was being held on $150,000 bail, and the other in Litchfield where a 75-year-old man charged with manslaughter was given $50,000 bond, which he posted and was released. “For the life of me, I cannot comprehend the disparities that exist in bail determinations, both as recommended by prosecutors and sometimes as varied or imposed by judges,” Judge McDonald said. “And I think frankly that fuels a lot of the distrust of the criminal justice system among members of the public.”
Hartford State Attorney Sharmese Walcott agreed during her interview with the Commission on May 12. something different,” attorney Walcott said. That’s an alarming inconsistency for Connecticut’s 23 “geographic area courts” where justice is determined by wealth and zip code.
According to the Department of Corrections, as of July 1, there were 9,936 people in custody. 40.5% of these people have not been convicted. In actual figures, that makes 4,023 people imprisoned without having been sentenced.
Ten years ago, in July 2012, 16,673 people were detained by the DOC and 4,080 had been charged but not convicted. In other words, there are nearly 7,000 fewer people incarcerated today than ten years ago, a reduction of 40%, but the number of people held in pretrial detention has not changed.
Our criminal justice system fails when the number of people incarcerated but not convicted approaches the same number of people who are.
The Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division’s Monthly Indicators Report indicated that as of June 1, 424 people were incarcerated with obligations of less than $20,000. As of January 2020, people with bonds of less than $20,000 have an automatic 10% option, which means that only 10% of the bond could be paid in court to free a person, with the money being returned to the end of the person’s case. For example, someone with $15,000 bond could pay $1,500 in court and get it back after their case is settled.
Another 440 people had bonds between $20,000 and $50,000, 544 people with bonds between $50,000 and $100,000, and 2,374 people were held with bonds over $100,000. Of course, people on remand could also turn to a surety on bail, but even that option is out of reach for people who prefer to dedicate their resources to an attorney defending them in court (and if a person finds themselves assign a public defender, they probably couldn’t post bail anyway).
Earlier this year, on May 10, an Ellington man was found guilty of murder by a jury. The man was originally arrested and charged in April 2017, but was able to post $1 million bail and had spent the past five years without detention. I remembered this case because a month earlier, in March 2017, a Hartford teenager was arrested for murder and was also given $1 million bail. The 17-year-old, who claimed a gun was accidentally fired, could not afford that bail, was jailed and entered into a plea deal a year later. Two people arrested on the same charge and sentenced to the same bond, but with startlingly different processes.
Most recently, on May 23 this year, a 17-year-old from Shelton charged with murder was released on $2 million bail, but there are currently more than 400 people in custody who could be freed if they paid. — at most — $2,000 in court.
Judge McDonald continued to question how bail was used at the June 20 CJC meeting during interviews with new state attorney candidates in New Britain and New Haven.
“Do you believe there is a problem in our criminal justice system with the inconsistent treatment of defendants in determining bail amounts? Judge McDonald asked attorney David Applegate.
“Yes,” Applegate replied. “We use an algorithm and the variables correlate with race… You talk about employment status, home ownership, whether the person is married. And these three things that would lead to a PTA [promise-to-appear]. “So you have an abusive white man in his 50s who beats his wife, gets credit for being married and owning a house, and he’s on track for a pledge to appear, as opposed to a young black man who gets caught interfering with the police which all of these factors are working against him.
Connecticutans cannot trust or trust this type of patchwork criminal legal system, especially for communities of color. Black and brown people have long been disproportionately represented in Connecticut’s jails and jails, making up about 70% of the population despite only making up about a third of the state’s total population. But the disparity is even greater when it comes to the remand population where 73% are black and Hispanic, and which has fallen from 65% five years ago.
Connecticut needs to build a different system that doesn’t incarcerate people because of their inability to afford their freedom. States like New Jersey and New Mexico and the District of Columbia have abandoned the use of bail and replaced them with systems that are more equitable and do not tie a person’s wealth to their ability to afford their freedom. Connecticut should start doing the same.
Gus Marks-Hamilton is a member of the Connecticut Mirror’s Community Editorial Board.