A Connecticut bill aimed at requiring state prosecutors to release data about their decision-making received strong support from speaker after speaker at Monday’s public hearing at the State Legislative Office Building.
Nineteen people, businesses and other organizations submitted written testimony, all in favor of State Senate Bill 880: An Act Increasing Fairness and Transparency in the Criminal Justice System. The state’s new governor, Democrat Ned Lamont, proposed the legislation.
The bill, which was bandied about Monday in front of the Judiciary Committee, would require the state to collect, report and publish annually on a public website information about prosecutors’ decisions. That information would include statistics about case outcomes, bails, plea deals, diversionary programs, and sentencing and demographic information about who prosecutors decline or decide to prosecute. Connecticut’s Division of Criminal Justice, which oversees prosecutors, is generally exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
Among those providing written testimony Monday were representatives from the Division of Criminal Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union Connecticut, the Office of Chief Public Defender, several church organizations, the Board of Pardons and Paroles, Connecticut Voices for Children, and the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence. Every entity supported the bill, although some wanted revisions or additions.
Gus Marks-Hamilton, smart justice field organizer with the state’s ACLU branch, said his group supports the measure because it demands transparency.
“This would allow lawmakers and the public to better evaluate the criminal justice system and, should it be necessary, propose evidence-based reforms to improve the system for the betterment of Connecticut residents,” Marks-Hamilton said in his remarks. “Despite the enormous power that prosecutors wield, Connecticut residents have very little information about what they do.”
Giving testimony on behalf of the Office of Chief Public Defender was Christine Rapillo, the state’s chief public defender.
“The bill mandates that the justice system collect data so that outcomes for both the accused and the community can be tracked,” Rapillo wrote. “Fairness to the accused and the victim, sentences that ensure successful reentry of convicted individuals into the community and public safety all need to be the goals of the criminal justice system. This proposal will help ensure that the system is accomplishing those goals.”
Furthermore, Rapillo wrote: “Senate Bill 880 increases transparency and accountability in our criminal justice system and provides additional safeguards against unnecessary incarceration.”
Speaking on behalf of the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, Lucy Nolan, director of policy and public relations, wrote: “We believe that collecting and analyzing data about sexual assault crimes will provide much-needed clarity about the scope of these crimes, their outcomes, and gaps in policies that need to be addressed.”
Kevin Kane, the chief state’s attorney for Connecticut, said his office has been pushing, since 2007, for an information technology system “to review and store information so decision-makers can make informed decisions.” Kane also said that, while he supports the release of data, he added, “data can also be misunderstood and misused if not taken in context.”
If the Judiciary Committee votes to pass the bill out of committee, it could be sent to yet another committee or go straight to the floor for a vote. Lamont, the one who proposed the bill, is expected to sign off on it.
According to the Connecticut ACLU, Massachusetts and Florida have passed legislation requiring state prosecutors to release data about their decision-making process. Several jurisdictions, including New York County and Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago, have released racial demographic data from prosecutors’ decisions.