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New Connecticut Law Leads On Criminal Justice Transparency

Lori Mack
Connecticut Public Radio
Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane (left) shakes hands with Governor Ned Lamont after the bill signing ceremony in Hartford, Aug 7, 2019.

Governor Ned Lamont signed legislation Wednesday that makes Connecticut the first state in the nation to mandate the collection of prosecutorial data statewide. The measure is aimed largely at addressing racial disparities in the criminal justice system. 

The bill requires prosecutors to compile detailed information, including the number of defendants who get prison time, plea deals or diversionary programs.

The information will be broken down further by race, ethnicity, gender, age, and other demographics.

State Senator Gary Winfield called it the most important bill passed this year.

"In one way or another, what we do with that transparent data, at this point, will affect every single one of us," he said. "It will affect the taxes you pay. It will affect whether the people who are around you are able to get jobs or if they’re required to, because we have put barriers in place. That’s going to affect you."

But one of the challenges will be how to collect data on plea bargains. That’s the arrangement between a prosecutor and defendant where the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence, and it’s how most criminal cases get resolved.

Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane says many factors go into plea deals and putting that into context will be the challenge.

"For instance, the strength or weakness of the case," said Kane. "The willingness of victims and witnesses to testify and come forward, children who are victims of sexual assaults. There are a variety of factors that we have to be able to figure out -- how to be able to get together -- to put that data into context."

The measure passed unanimously through the Senate and House earlier this year.

It's been widely hailed by criminal justice advocates as a good step forward. The ACLU's Smart Justice project says on its website that it has now written to all 13 state's attorneys in Connecticut regarding the new law.

"We urged them to embrace it as a chance to use their roles to end mass incarceration and stop racism in the justice system," says a statement on the site.

The ACLU is asking to meet with the state's attorneys to discuss the new law.

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.

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