HARTFORD, CT — A survey of state prosecutors across the nation indicated that most track offenses and felonies but far fewer collect data on the demographics of the people arrested in their jurisdiction or whether defendants are held during lengthy court cases, according to the Urban Institute.
The demographic and bond data are the key metrics that proponents of SB 880, a bill that would require state prosecutors to annually provide all arrest and sentencing data for public view, want to see.
Having data on prosecutions publically available is a way to increase the community’s confidence that court decisions are fair, said Marc Pelka, Undersecretary of Criminal Justice for the Office of Policy and Management.
It’s also a way for prosecutors to tell their story when it comes to policy and budget decisions at the legislative level, Pelka said.
“This is part of Connecticut’s larger effort to increase prosecutorial data and transparency,” he added.
Policy analysts from the Urban Institute, which provides research on urban policy issues, presented their findings from a 2018 national survey of prosecutors’ offices throughout the country Wednesday to a crowd backing the bill including Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane.
The 13 state’s attorney’s offices in Connecticut still rely on a paper file system – making it impossible to track data, Kane said. “We’re functioning in the modern age like we were functioning in 1942 or 1943,” Kane said.
But the Division of Criminal Justice is on the verge of unrolling a new case management system that will allow the agency to more easily gather all types of data that would satisfy the provisions of the bill.
Kane announced his support in March for a revised version of the bill that was crafted with input from the Judicial Branch, the Office of Policy and Management, the Chief Public Defenders Office and the Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union. –
The first portion of the bill would require the Division of Criminal Justice to gather all information on arrests and sentencings including the demographics of the defendants, the number of continuances and pre-trial proceedings, information on plea agreements and the number of trials.
The information would be made public annually so that residents and legislators would have a good idea of the demographics of arrests and sentencings.
The second portion of the bill would provide legal counsel through the state’s public defender system to all sentenced defendants who are facing parole revocation.
The Urban Institute sent surveys on the types of data gathered to 682 prosecutors’ offices throughout the country. The results were based on responses from 141 offices. Another 17 offices responded to a shorter version of the survey, the authors said.
All of the offices collected at least one of seven metrics outlined in the survey. But fewer than half collected all seven of the metrics which included whether or not data was gathered on cases referred, charges at arrest, the final charges, cases declined, cases dismissed, cases resolved by a plea and cases that went to trial.
The offices were most likely to track offense type, and least likely to track defendant characteristics and victim characteristics, the survey concluded. The offices were twice as likely to track the screening of cases for prosecution as they were pre-trial release information.
“Out of 139 responses, 29 said they kept track of releasing people on their own recognizance, with bond or without bond, 98 said they didn’t,” said Robin Olsen, Senior Policy Associate with the Urban Institute who authored the survey with Leigh Courtney and Chloe Warnberg, also with the Institute.
The survey was conducted to examine the lack of knowledge about data collection and use among prosecutors’ offices and provide ways to aid offices that wanted to broaden their data collection efforts.
The bill was suggested by Gov. Ned Lamont who promised more transparency during his campaign, Pelka said. The Judiciary Committee sent the bill to the Senate on April 9. The Office of Fiscal Analysis has yet to evaluate the fiscal impact.
Kane’s office and other stakeholders including the Connecticut ACLU worked on an amended version of the bill which shortened the laundry list of information that would be required to be submitted for public view.
The final version included a provision to track the race, ethnicity, gender, and age of defendants. Bond information will be able to be tracked but what the prosecutor recommended for bond will not be gathered. Kane’s eventual backing of the amended version helped move it forward, Pelka.
“When Kevin submitted his testimony, that was the turning point,” Pelka said.
If the bill is signed into law, the Office of Policy and Management will make the first year of data available to the public in July 2020. The Division of Criminal Justice will provide their first year of data in July 2021, Pelka said.
With the case management system, the Division of Criminal Justice will be able to examine its own data for the first time, Kane said. “Now we can collect data and have it be useful,” Kane said.
“What’s ironic is what brought us to this point today, which is groups who wanted to analyze us,” Kane said. “This is a great step.”