The ACLU-CT believes that mass incarceration is the liberation struggle that defines our era in United States history. We have come to a point where approximately three out of every ten adults in the U.S. has a criminal record of some kind, and over half of the people in this country have a close family member who has been incarcerated. Prosecutors hold people’s lives in their hands: their decisions impact a person’s freedom, fundamental rights, and entire future. In Connecticut, where being charged with a crime can lead to a lifetime of being denied housing, employment, licensure, education, and other opportunities, prosecutors impose effective life sentences every day.
On March 22nd, 2023 Campaign Manager Gus Marks-Hamilton testified in support of S.B. 1070 during its public hearing in the Judiciary Committee. The following is his testimony:
Senator Winfield, Representative Stafstrom, Ranking Members Senator Kissel and Representative Fishbein, and distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee, my name is Gus Marks-Hamilton and I work as the campaign manager at the ACLU of Connecticut Smart Justice campaign. I am testifying in support of Senate Bill 1070: An Act Concerning Prosecutorial Accountability.
As an organization that believes that government transparency and accountability is imperative to a democracy, and that fights for fair and equal justice for everyone in the criminal legal system, we believe that SB 1070 is the right step towards more transparent prosecution with meaningful opportunities for both oversight and public input.
Every Connecticut resident is affected by the decisions made by Connecticut prosecutors, known as “state’s attorneys.” People accused or convicted of a crime, their families, victims of crime and their families, and taxpayers who foot the bills for both prosecutors’ budgets and the cost of incarceration are impacted by the criminal legal system and deserve to know about the role that prosecutors play in the operation of the criminal legal system. Prosecutors hold people’s lives in their hands. Being charged with a crime can lead to a lifetime of being denied housing, employment, licensure, education, and other opportunities. Prosecutors can impose effective life sentences every day. Following the passage of Public Act 19-59 in 2019, prosecution in Connecticut is becoming more transparent, and SB 1070 will continue to build on that work.
First, it requires the thirteen state’s attorneys to annually check in with the Criminal Justice Commission. Each state’s attorney would be required to go before the CJC and comment on case-level data being collected and trends they see in their judicial districts. The CJC would be able to highlight areas for improvement or changes, if necessary. And people living in those judicial districts can weigh in on how they feel about local prosecution. In 2019 Smart Justice met individually with each of the thirteen state’s attorneys in their districts and asked them what their community engagement looked like. The responses from the state’s attorneys varied from community boards to shopping in a local grocery store. The annual check-ins proposed in SB 1070 would create a formalized role for community input, and since the CJC began holding appointment hearings at the Legislative Office Building in 2019 there has been a great deal of interest and participation from members of the pubic. SB 1070 would also shorten the term lengths of state’s attorneys from eight years to five years. This is more in line with other positions within the Division of Criminal Justice.
Transparency and accountability are critical to creating a smarter justice system, and SB 1070 lays out the map to get Connecticut there. We urge the members of this committee to support SB 1070 and thank you for listening to our testimony today.