Lamont wants criminal justice information compiled, made public

February 25, 2019

The state is poised, after more than a decade of effort and the expenditure of approximately $55 million, to fully implement a Connecticut Information Sharing System that enables criminal justice agencies to share information.

By the end of 2019, up to 23,000 users in the criminal justice community, from police and prosecutors to judges and parole officers, are expected to be able to receive information in real time, according to a report by the Criminal Justice Information System governing board.

The state launched the project after the Cheshire home invasion murders of 2007 revealed that prior to the crimes, the two killers had been released on parole by officials who did not know the full details of their criminal histories. The parole board did not, for example, have a sentencing transcript from five years earlier in which a judge described one of the men, Joshua Komisarjevsky, as a “calculated cold-blooded predator” while sentencing him for burglaries.

The Criminal Information Sharing System, or CISS, could be on line just in time for state policymakers to start collecting and making public case-specific information requested by Gov. Ned Lamont in a bill introduced this week called, “An Act Increasing Fairness and Transparency in the Criminal Justice System.”

The governor’s bill would require the Office of Policy and Management to compile and publish an annual report, beginning on July 1, 2020, of every criminal defendant, minus their names but including their age, race or ethnicity, gender, ZIP code, primary language and whether they are considered indigent. The report would include the charges brought against the defendant, the date and location of the alleged offense, and whether the charge is a felony or misdemeanor.

In drug cases, the drug type and amount seized would be required, along with arrest date, attorney information, dates of each court appearance, bail or bond information and conditions of release, including the state’s attorney’s recommedations. The bill also proposes collection of sentencing information, amount of time served prior to sentencing, whether the defendant was offered a diversionary program; the amount of court fees, fines and restitution imposed and any offers of a plea deal.

Chief State’s Attorney Kevin T. Kane said that the collection of such data is occurring nationally and that it’s a good idea.  But he cautioned that looking at raw data doesn’t tell the full story and could lead to misunderstandings.

“This will enable comparison at certain levels, but what I do worry about is, justice is really individual, and every case has its own facts and circumstances, its own evidence, victims and defendants. If you look at cases you can see how every case is different,” explained Kane. 

Kane said the data could be useful for analyzing the impact of mandatory minimum sentences and other legislation.

The American Civil Liberties Union Connecticut chapter applauded Lamont’s proposal in a news release, noting that prosecutors have a lot of power and that everyone affected by the criminal justice system should have more information about the work of the state’s attorneys.

In a phone interview, Gus Marks-Hamilton, field organizer of the Connecticut ACLU’s Smart Justice campaign to reduce mass incarceration and racial disparity in the justice system, said that if enacted, the governor’s bill would help shed more light on racial disparities within the jail system, which he said are among the worst in the country. He cited a 2016 report of The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group that ranked Connecticut the sixth highest in the nation for disproportionate incarceration of African Americans and seventh highest for disproportionate in incarceration of Latinos.

“Connecticut is 80 percent white, but the jail and prison population is approximately 2/3rds minorities,” he said. “That’s an outcome of the criminal justice process, of people going through the court system.”

The public currently doesn’t have access to a lot of basic information about how the court system works, said Marks-Hamilton.

Creation of the information-sharing system involves multiple vendors and connection of 50 existing databases, including 93 police departments. Users of the finished product will have different levels of access, depending on their positions.

The new system will be revolutionary for some agencies, including the Division of Criminal Justice, whose prosecutors still work with paper files. 

“I still keep track of our cases on index cards,” said New London State’s Attorney Michael L. Regan. New cases are entered into a basic word processing program, but Regan said he would still have to conduct a hand search if he wanted, for example, to get the number of pending murder cases.  Regan said several staff members are involved in the CISS project.