HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut prosecutors are opposing a criminal justice reform proposal that could result in scores of people charged with minor crimes avoiding an electronic record of their arrests, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press.
The chief state’s attorney’s office was mandated by a law passed last year to issue a report on having prosecutors review all criminal charges before they are entered onto court dockets. Compared with other states, Connecticut currently has an unusual system in which charges filed by police go straight onto the dockets, creating a searchable online record on the state court system’s website.
Advocates for the reform, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, say it would be an important check on police power and help people charged with minor crimes that later may be dismissed avoid the collateral consequences of a searchable record — one that employers and landlords, for example, could use to reject job and housing applications.
The office of Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr., the state’s top prosecutor, recently submitted the report to the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, saying such a sweeping change would be costly and potentially create several problems, including violating crime victims’ constitutional rights.
Instead, prosecutors are proposing expanding an existing pilot program running at several courthouses around the state. In the Early Screening and Intervention Program, prosecutors review minor cases after they are docketed and determine whether charges should be dismissed and whether defendants should be sent to diversionary programs. A social worker also helps refer defendants to community programs, such as ones for drug addiction and mental health problems.
“Given the early success of the ESI initiative, it presents a better option than a radical change to the system,” the report says.
Kelly McConney Moore, interim senior policy council at the ACLU of Connecticut, said prosecutor review of charges needs to happen earlier than it does in the ESI program — before cases are docketed in the courts — and the benefits for defendants outweigh the concerns listed in the report.
“If prosecutor review happens before charges are filed, we can avoid a lot of negative effects for criminal defendants,” she said. “The difference between being arrested and charged is big. It’s important for prosecutors to serve as a check on the police.”
Prosecutors say mandating a review of all criminal charges before they are placed on court dockets would be an expensive requirement. The state likely would have to hire an additional 13 prosecutors, because they would be needed days, nights and weekends to conduct those reviews. That could cost over $1 million, according to current prosecutors’ salaries.
Changes to prosecutors’ schedules also would be subject to review by the prosecutors’ labor union and collective bargaining, the report says.
It also may be a violation of crime victims’ rights under the state constitution to resolve cases or decline to prosecute them before a court appearance, prosecutors say.
The report also said if state’s attorneys decline to prosecute charges before the court process, it would limit required data collection on race and ethnicity at the court level in the criminal justice system.
The Early Screening and Intervention Program accomplishes many of the same goals at the reform advocates are seeking, prosecutors say.
The program already has resulted in fewer court appearances and a projected cost savings of more than $2,200 per defendant, compared with the regular court system, the report said. The program could generate cost savings of $9 million per year, prosecutors say.
It’s not clear when state lawmakers will consider the chief state’s attorney’s recommendations.