Connecticut prosecutors strive for efficiency, equity through 'Moving Justice Forward' initiative
Connecticut’s Division of Criminal Justice is working to improve efficiency and fairness in the state's criminal justice system through a project called Moving Justice Forward.
After an 11-month analysis of prosecutorial policies in Hartford, New Britain, New London and Danbury, the Division of Criminal Justice on Thursday released a document describing its goals for future improvement.
“We are trying to instill in the public confidence in the criminal justice system as a whole, but in particular, the Division of Criminal Justice,” Chief State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin said during a press conference about the initiative.
The analysis examined case initiation, charging, plea-bargaining, sentencing, bail, prosecutor caseloads, training and relationships with law enforcement and the community.
The initiative was announced in 2022 with hopes of creating a blueprint to improve the justice system with feedback from prosecutors, victims and criminal justice system stakeholders.
The division set several goals based on the findings of the analysis, including developing more diversionary programs for defendants, such as counseling or drug treatment; and increasing cohesion between local state’s attorneys’ offices. They also aim to improve diversity, equity and inclusion, strengthen community relations and offer more transparency to the public.
The initiative also aims to improve data collection and reporting, help people who represent themselves in court and improve prosecutor training and workloads.
One of the people in the audience Thursday said his own criminal case highlights problems that remain unaddressed within the state's criminal justice system.
Gaylord Salters maintains he was wrongfully convicted in 2003 of first-degree assault and conspiracy to commit assault. Salters was released last year after a key witness recanted his statement to police. A judge suspended his 40-year prison sentence.
The prosecutor who handled his case also prosecuted Salters' brother, who received a settlement of $4.2 million from the state after his conviction in a murder case was overturned in 2013 due to prosecutorial misconduct, the New Haven Independent reported.
While incarcerated, Salters published three books and started his own publishing company. Salters has gotten involved in the community and led protests in New Haven since his release.
He said that if the Division of Criminal Justice is serious about its latest initiative, it should address allegations of prosecutorial and policing misconduct in New Haven.
At least 32 people convicted of crimes in Connecticut since 1973 have later been exonerated, according to records maintained by the National Registry of Exonerations. Half of them had cases tried in New Haven county.
“There are still people living through continuing exonerations,” Salters said. “That’s the big problem.”
Griffin requested patience as the Division of Criminal Justice reviews pending claims for exoneration.
"I have gone before the superior court and asked for cases to be vacated. You know that," Griffin said. "So I would ask you to have some patience."
The state established a new conviction integrity unit within the Office of the Chief State's Attorney in 2021. The unit reinvestigates claims of wrongful conviction, and those in which the integrity of an investigation resulting in a conviction has been called into question.
Connecticut received private funding from the Herbert & Nell Singer Foundation to undertake its latest review of prosecutorial practices.
As part of the initiative, the state recently published a set of comprehensive guidelines for prosecutors, dubbed the Connecticut Prosecution Standards. The 207-page guide describes subject matter ranging from how to seek arrest and surveillance warrants, to addressing misconduct and conflicts of interest.
State prosecutors received training on the new standards at an event held in June.
Senior Associate Justice Andrew J. McDonald, who chairs the state's Criminal Justice Commission, said in a written statement that the standards will be helpful for new hires as the state fills numerous vacancies created by recent retirements.
"This new generation of lawyers will now have this important resource available to guide them as they begin their service to the State of Connecticut in the criminal justice system," he said.