08:24, June 14 177 0 abajournal.com

2019-06-14 08:24:06
This state is expected to become the first to collect prosecutor data, with breakdowns by race

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Connecticut is expected to become the first state to collect statewide criminal case data from prosecutors broken down by the defendants’ race, sex, ethnicity, age and ZIP code.

In votes in late May and early June, Connecticut legislators unanimously approved the transparency bill known as SB 880, report the Associated Press and the Connecticut Mirror. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont had backed the bill and was expected to sign it.

The bill requires the state to collect statistics on arrests, diversionary programs, case dispositions, plea agreements, cases going to trial, court fines and fees, and restitution orders.

Lamont said the bill will provide the public with greater insight into prosecutors’ decisions. “This data will provide insight into the front end of the system, which has historically been a ‘black box’ and will help ensure that justice is attained in the fairest ways possible,” he said in a press release after Senate passage of the bill.

State Rep. Steven Stafstrom of Bridgeport, who co-chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said the bill will allow for analysis in variations of delivery of justice. “It tends to be courthouse by courthouse—or sometimes prosecutor by prosecutor,” he told the Connecticut Mirror.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut supported the bill. In an op-ed in the Connecticut Mirror, the group’s executive director and its Smart Justice field organizer said prosecutors wield tremendous power and their decisions deserve scrutiny.

They pointed out that, nationwide, 95% of criminal cases end in plea bargains. That means that most of the time, prosecutors decide how a case is resolved, they wrote.

The Associated Press also pointed to information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showing racial disparities in imprisonment nationwide. The imprisonment rate for sentenced black men in 2017 was more than twice the rate of sentenced Latino men and nearly six times the rate of sentenced white men.

The AP also cited a study of plea bargains in Wisconsin that found that white defendants were 25% more likely than black defendants to have their charges dropped or reduced to lesser crimes.

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