A poll taken by the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut indicates a strong majority of Connecticut residents support improving prosecutorial transparency in the state.
ACLU-CT’s Campaign for Smart Justice commissioned the poll of 621 Connecticut residents on March 28 and 29, to get their impressions of Senate Bill 880, proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont, which would require the Division of Criminal Justice to report and publish data prosecutors’ decisions each year.
Of those surveyed, 72 percent of voters, including 78 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Independents, said that increased transparency about prosecutors’ decisions would allow the state improve its justice system. And 79 percent said the amount of power prosecutors have is a compelling reason to support such a measure. Two thirds of respondents said racial disparity in the criminal justice system is also a compelling reason to support the bill.
“Smart Justice leaders have been advocating for legislation to increase transparency about prosecutors’ actions, and the majority of Connecticut voters stand with us,” said Gus Marks-Hamilton, Smart Justice field organizer for the ACLU of Connecticut. “Prosecutors are some of the most powerful people in the justice system, and their decisions directly affect the lives of tens of thousands of people in our state every day. Connecticut voters recognize that with prosecutors’ enormous power comes a responsibility for them to be transparent and open with the public.”
Liza Andrews, director of public policy and communications for the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the organization also supports S.B. 880. “More transparency about prosecutors’ decisions is extremely important to understanding and strengthening the state’s response to domestic violence as it relates to the criminal justice system,” she said.
S.B. 880 would require the Division of Criminal Justice, which employs prosecutors, to report data, including demographic data about people accused or convicted of a crime, and about prosecutors’ actions on charging, pretrial detention, bail, plea deals, diversionary programs, and sentencing. A public report and analysis would be made available each year. Democratic Senators Martin Looney and Bob Duff introduced the bill, along with state Reps. Joe Aresimowicz and Matthew Ritter.
Governor Lamont’s original proposal calls for data to be collected in criminal cases including the defendant’s age, address, primary language and race/ethnicity, plus information related to bail or bonds and sentencing. The bill also directs the state’s Chief Public Defender to establish a pilot program to provide representation to defendants at parole revocation hearings.
“Transparency and accountability from prosecutors is important to both victims and advocates,” said Lucy Nolan, director of policy and public relations for the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, adding that the information would allow victims of sexual assault and advocates to ascertain how the state handles sexual assault cases and victims.
The ACLU of Connecticut encouraged the Legislature to strengthen the bill by requiring the state to also collect information about juvenile cases; prosecutors’ contact with victims; and stronger privacy protections for both victims and defendants.
Public Policy Polling conducted the survey. Forty-three percent of participants identified as Democrats, 28 percent as Republicans, and 29 percent as Independents.