HARTFORD, CT —The House unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that would provide more transparency on how prosecutors do their jobs.
SB 880 requires prosecutors to collect a wide range of arrest and sentencing data for public view and would also allow indigent defendants to have representation during parole hearings.
“Prosecutors have a great deal of authority, flexibility and autonomy,” Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport said. The public puts a great deal of trust in prosecutors, but at the moment the state has an outdated way of collecting data, Stafstrom said. “This tries to reform our way of tracking data,” he added.
Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to sign the bill. It was his transition team that made the recommendation to provide more transparency and accountability in prosecutorial decisions.
“These new requirements will be an important step toward increasing the confidence that communities have in the criminal justice system by helping to ensure that justice is attained in the fairest ways possible,” Lamont said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote. “Prosecutors play a crucial role in criminal cases from start to finish. This data will help shed new light on that process, particularly in the front-end of cases, which have historically been a ‘black box.’ I want to thank both the House and the Senate for voting to approve our bill, and I look forward to signing it into law.”
The Division of Criminal Justice, which oversees the 13 state’s attorney’s offices, currently manages cases with paper files. Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane quipped during a presentation on prosecutorial transparency offered by the Urban Institute that his agency was “functioning in the modern age like we were functioning in 1942 or 1943.”
Kane announced his support of the bill in March after stakeholders, including Marc Pelka, the Undersecretary of Criminal Justice for the Office of Policy and Management, agreed to narrow the focus of the data required to be collected.
Kane is also seeking extra funding to hire 13 more staff to deal with 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.
“If that helps us get the resources we need, that’s a great thing,” Kane said of the bill.
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 at the Urban Institute presentation.
“This is part of Connecticut’s larger effort to increase prosecutorial data and transparency,” he added.
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 initiate a pilot program to provide legal counsel through the state’s public defender system to all sentenced defendants who are indigent and who are facing parole revocation.
The final version of the bill allowed the Chief Public Defender’s Office to only provide the legal counsel to indigent defendants if the agency had enough funding to do so.
The bill also was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut and the organization’s Smart Justice Campaign which testified during a public hearing in March.
“Prosecutors are some of the most powerful people in the courtroom,” Rep. Robyn Porter said minutes before the bill passed in the House. The bill would make sure “prosecutors are being equitable,” she added.