Despite a drop in the number of criminal charges issued by police in 2020, Black residents faced a disproportionately higher percentage of arrests when compared to white and Hispanic residents, according to a state Office of Policy and Management report.
The pandemic cut the number of charges and the number of people charged by nearly half and the number of convictions by almost two-thirds in 2020, according to the report which analyzes prosecutor data from 2019 and 2020.
But Blacks were slightly more likely in 2020 to be convicted either through a plea bargain or a trial and less likely to have their cases dismissed compared to white and Hispanic residents, the report said.
At the same time, 51% of Black defendants received a nolle by prosecutors – a disposition that allows charges to be dropped after 13 months if a defendant does not get arrested during that time frame.
The nolle was the most used disposition in 2020 – with 31,030 issued to a variety of defendants in 2020, out of 61,381 cases that were disposed, the report said. Blacks were also more likely to be convicted of felony charges as opposed to whites who were more likely to be convicted of misdemeanor charges, the data showed.
Whites make up 67% of the state’s population but 46% of the court dispositions in 2020, the report said. Blacks make up 11% of the state’s population but 28% of the court dispositions, and Hispanics make up 17% of the state’s population and 23% of 2020 court dispositions, the data showed.
Marc Pelka, head of criminal justice policy for the Office of Policy and Management said the report wasn’t meant to be a racial disparity report.
“The study is not a racial disparity analysis. To be clear about its limitations. The study focused on the workflow and operations of prosecutors,” Pelka said.
The numbers don’t necessarily show systemic disparities but rather societal issues that are playing out in the state’s largest cities, according to Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo.
“I’m still trying to understand we play a role in the disparities but it’s a societal issue, rather than a systemic issue,” Colangelo said.
“We had five towns that generated 33% of arrests,” Colangelo said.
The towns, Hartford, Bridgeport, Waterbury, New Haven and New Britain, make up 16% of the state’s population and the residents are predominantly minorities, Colangelo said. “These are areas of high victimization and that’s a concern for me,” Colangelo said.
The report, mandated by the legislature in 2019, requires prosecutors to annually collect demographic data on the disposition of criminal cases and release the information to the Criminal Justice Commission. Prosecutors are looking to use the information to tell their story to the public and during budget sessions, according to the report.
But the point was to determine how the system was working and if disparities in arrests and sentencing were occurring, said Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee.
Winfield was less interested in the number of nolles prosecutors issued and more interested in why certain communities were targeted for arrests but no interventions for the issues that drive crime, such as lack of educational and financial opportunities.
“We did this to get transparency and to find out what was going on in the system,” Winfield said. “It was about looking at the disparities in the system, it wasn’t about how many nolles they are handing out.”
According to the report, in 2020, 27% of Blacks received a guilty verdict whether it was through a plea agreement or a trial compared to 24% of Hispanics and 23% of white defendants, the report said. During the same timeframe, 32% of white defendants and 28% of Hispanic defendants received dismissals of their charges compared to 22% of Black defendants.
Connecticut is unique in that police file charges and those charges are not reviewed by a prosecutor before the individual ends up in the system.
Some say the system could point to over policing, but no one was willing to draw that conclusion just yet.
“Every part of the state is different,” Colangelo said. “You can see the areas of high victimization.”
Colangelo is trying to figure out if a person’s criminal history is playing a role in creating disparities since those who have prior arrests or convictions are more likely to face stiffer penalties, he said. But he also has to be concerned about the victims of crime, no matter where they live.
“We have to make sure everyone, no matter where they live, has the ability to send their children out to play safely,” Colangelo said.