- Associated Press - Thursday, November 3, 2016

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut keeps too many nonviolent people charged with minor crimes in prison on bonds they cannot afford to post, and needs to reform its pretrial detention practices, former detainees and advocates for the poor told the state Sentencing Commission on Thursday.

The commission held a public hearing on the issue as it evaluates the detention practices at the request of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose proposal earlier this year to overhaul the bail system died in the legislature.

About 650 people are detained in state prisons because they cannot afford to post bail of less than $20,000, the latest Department of Correction figures show.

Advocates said at the hearing that judges and police set unattainable bail on people who aren’t a threat to public safety and the practice is disrupting lives and disproportionately affecting minorities who live in poor communities. People jailed on bails they can’t pay are torn from their children and jobs, they said.

“The bail system in Connecticut is irrevocably broken,” said Reginald Betts, a recent graduate of Yale Law School who spent eight years in prison for a carjacking he committed as a teenager. He has recently been working at the state public defender’s office in New Haven.

Betts also called the system “racist.” He said he sees judges not considering the primary factors set in state law for setting bail - whether the defendants are likely to appear at future court dates and whether they are a risk to public safety.

The Sentencing Commission will consider the comments as it crafts recommendations to improve policy.

The governor proposed prohibiting judges from setting cash bail for people charged only with misdemeanors - with exceptions for those deemed a threat to others and for defendants charged with failing to appear in court.

Malloy has said that nearly 350 inmates accused of misdemeanors would not be imprisoned if his proposal had become law. He maintains that bail reform would have saved the state $15 million a year in prison costs.

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