As Connecticut continues its financial convulsions, nary a word has been uttered about attempting to make the operation of the judicial branch, in conjunction with those functions of the executive branch which involve the justice system, more efficient. Rather, the approach to this crisis has been ad hoc layoffs with little consideration to the conduct of business leaving some offices critically short of personnel while others have undergone little or no impact. In some courts there are as many public defenders, who have a portion of the docket, as there are prosecutors who have the entire docket. Some clerk’s offices have been gutted while others have been barely impacted.
A more comprehensive approach is warranted.
Few would argue that our courts are models of business efficiency. Perhaps the nature of its task, to ensure the dispensing of justice, is not entirely consistent with a model that would pass muster at a reputable business school. Yet the now-chronic fiscal woes of the state demand some effort be made to develop ways in which to run our judicial system in a more efficient manner.
The criminal justice system provides an excellent example of a governmental function that could be operated for less money. The current number of personnel, prosecutors, and public defenders was developed decades ago to meet a growing crime rate that required additional help to address expanding court dockets. That crime rate has substantially abated to levels that have not been seen for many years. A casual observer of the criminal courts will notice that many courts conclude their docket during the morning session and lie empty all afternoon.
However, the personnel levels have not been adjusted to reflect this substantial reduction in the number of cases. Given the deplorable state of our budget, the time has long passed for the judicial system to consider what reductions can be made without compromising its function. Two ideas merit consideration. One, reinstitute part-time employees. Decades ago both the prosecutors and public defenders used part-time employees on a statewide basis. They were useful and productive in providing services only when they were needed at less cost than a full-time employee. They were eliminated many years ago for unknown reasons. Given the reduced state of the current dockets, this approach should be resurrected.
Second, consider the consolidation of some of the G.A. courts. There is simply little or no reason for some of these low-volume courts, with their full complement of personnel and cost of operating the facility, to exist in this dire fiscal environment. It would provide no undue hardship for a portion of the state population to require them to travel somewhat further to attend court nor would it adversely impact the quality of justice. Courts that are functioning on what is essentially a part-time basis are currently far too expensive to continue to operate.
We support the formation of a task force to determine ways to operate the criminal justice system more efficiently. Connecticut’s financial crisis, whose origins extend far past the borders of the judicial system, will never be resolved by a more fiscally responsible court system, but it will help and perhaps provide a positive example for the other branches of government.