HARTFORD, CT — The ACLU’s Smart Justice coalition, which is led by formerly incarcerated individuals, wants the Connecticut General Assembly to pass legislation that will increase prosecutorial transparency and another that would end discrimination of formerly incarcerated individuals.
The legislation, which has been filed but hasn’t appeared yet online, is part of a larger movement to end mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
The first bill, which seeks to increase prosecutorial transparency, would require the Division of Criminal Justice to report to the Criminal Justice Commission and the Office of Policy and Management aggregate data about the demographics of individuals, their charges, bail, plea deals, diversionary programs, sentencing, and pre-trial detention.
The data would need to be reported annually and an analysis of the data would need to be reported on a public website every year before Oct. 1.
Gus Marks-Hamilton, a Smart Justice field organizer, said the Division of Criminal Justice is already creating a digital case management system that should be able to provide the data.
The other bill would prevent discrimination because of a criminal record.
Tiheba Bain, a Smart Justice leader who also served as a member of Gov. Ned Lamont’s criminal justice policy transition team, said formerly incarcerated individuals face over 600 legal and policy barriers.
“If we’re going to effectuate sustainable change we must put into operation the anti-discrimination law,” Bain said.
She said she’s had firsthand experience with the discrimination.
She said she was recruited for a job and had multiple in-person interviews before she was “phased out after revealing the nature of my crime as a violent offense.” The offense was committed over 18 years ago.
A 2018 poll by the ACLU of Connecticut found 82 percent of voters, including 92 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of unaffiliated, and 71 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement that “people who have been convicted of a crime can turn their lives around and become productive members of our community if they can get the right kind of help.”
“With the right kind of help this should be a bipartisan win,” Bain said.
David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said there’s no reason to think this wouldn’t be a bipartisan effort like it was in Washington.
There are an estimated 40,000 people on probation and parole in Connecticut, and many struggle to reintegrate into society and provide the basic necessities for themselves and their families because of discrimination based on their criminal record.
Anderson Curtis, another Smart Justice organizer, said “all people in Connecticut have paid the price of mass incarceration.”
He said it’s not the $53,000 a year taxpayers pay to incarcerate an individual, “it’s the hope, dignity, safety and human potential that mass incarceration extracts from our communities.”
He said formerly incarcerated individuals pay the price daily as they struggle to find stable housing and employment.
“Every person in Connecticut is worse off when our neighbors can’t get housing, jobs, or insurance to support ourselves and contribute to our communities,” Curtis said.
Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said he doesn’t have a lot to add because the Smart Justice coalition put it into perspective.
“Too often when we talk about these things you have people like myself who have not been in the system, who might be allies to people in the system saying a lot, but you never get to hear them,” Winfield said.
Curtis, Bain, Marks-Hamilton, and Sandy LoMonico, who are all registered lobbyists now, all served time behind bars.
Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, said she’s supporting the legislation not only because it’s the right thing to do, but for her it’s personal.
“My son was incarcerated. He’s been home for over three years,” Porter said. “And I am personally going through these things with him. The barriers that are in place.”
Porter said a lot of people who have gone to jailm “especially people who look like me,” have paid their debt to society, but they often don’t even get a “first chance.”
“If it wasn’t a life sentence they received when they were convicted, surely it shouldn’t be a life sentence when they come home,” Porter said. “That’s what this has turned into. Felonies are scarlet F’s that actually crucify people for a lifetime.”