An ACLU lobbying campaign led by ex-offenders and backed by Gov. Ned Lamont culminated Tuesday night in the unanimous final passage of a bill meant to open a window to prosecutorial decisions about everything from charges to sentencing recommendations.
The ACLU of Connecticut’s Smart Justice lobbyists quietly celebrated after the House passed the bill on a vote of 148-0 at the urging of Democratic and Republican leaders on the Judiciary Committee. The Senate passed the measured unanimously a week ago.
The bill calls for the collection and publication of data on prosecutorial decisions about charges, diversionary programs, bail requests, plea deals and sentencing recommendations. It also raises the profile of the commission responsible for the appointment and disciplining of prosecutors.
“This bill’s passage is a step forward for transparency about prosecutors’ actions, and the information it will unveil is vital for ending inequities and injustices in Connecticut’s justice system,” said Gus Marks-Hamilton, a field organizer for Smart Justice.
The bill was introduced on behalf of Lamont, who ran on a pledge of building on the criminal-justice reforms of his predecessor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. It eventually won the support of prosecutors, easing its overwhelming passage.
Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, the co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said the bill will allow greater analysis of the variations in how justice is delivered in Connecticut.
“It tends to be courthouse by courthouse — or sometimes prosecutor by prosecutor,” Stafstrom said.
Passage of the Connecticut legislation comes during a national campaign to provide greater transparency about prosecutors.
In states where prosecutors are elected, campaigns now turn on the willingness of district attorneys to use data to examine their own offices for evidence of racial disparities or to analyze the impact of their policies on rates of crime, incarceration and recidivism.
State’s attorneys in Connecticut are appointed by a Criminal Justice Commission. The transparency bill requires the panel to meet at the Legislative Office Building and offer the public a chance to testify any time it meets to appoint, reappoint, remove or discipline the chief state’s attorney, a deputy chief state’s attorney or a state’s attorney.
The bill also creates a pilot project directing the office of the chief public defender to represent indigent defendants at parole revocation hearings.
According to a 2018 report by the Prison Policy Initiative, Connecticut now has the tenth-lowest incarceration rate in the U.S., but it is still higher than any other state in New England and New York and New Jersey. Racial disparities in the prison system fell significantly during the Malloy administration, but the ACLU says the state remained among the 10 worst when it came to disproportionately imprisoning black and Latino adults.