Connecticut voters have spoken, and their message is clear: silent-on-justice and backward-on-crime aren't Constitution State values.
Voters chose Ned Lamont, who published a criminal justice reform platform, agreed to listen to and meet with Smart Justice, and committed to most of our Smart Justice campaign’s 100 Day Pledge. They rejected Bob Stefanowski, who did not publish a platform, refused to acknowledge Smart Justice leaders, and attacked existing criminal justice reform laws. Voters also rejected the state’s two loudest critics of criminal justice reform – an incumbent legislator who made undermining justice his marquee issue, and an Attorney General candidate who campaigned on a backward-on-crime platform, despite the fact that Connecticut’s Attorney General has no criminal jurisdiction.
Connecticut voters want our state to realize its potential to end mass incarceration and eliminate racial disparities in the justice system.
Now, it’s up to Connecticut’s new governor-elect and legislature to follow through by prioritizing smart justice policies.
Months ago, Smart Justice asked every candidate for governor to commit to a 100 Day Pledge for Smart Justice. In his responses, Ned Lamont promised to take these six steps toward justice during his administration’s first 100 days:
Launch a national search for the next Commissioner of Department of Correction. As part of that search process, 1) create a search committee that includes formerly incarcerated criminal justice advocates and 2) hold public hearings for community input from our state’s largest reentry zones, which include Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven. Scott Semple, Connecticut’s current Commissioner of the Department of Correction, has announced that he will step down in January. It is important that Connecticut’s next DOC Commissioner is someone who understands and supports reducing mass incarceration and treating incarcerated people with dignity and respect.
Appoint a formerly incarcerated person who is committed to ending mass incarceration to the Connecticut Criminal Justice Commission, the body in charge of choosing prosecutors in our state. Prosecutors are some of the most powerful actors in the justice system, and their decisions have a direct impact on thousands of people’s lives. Connecticut, unlike most other states, relies on a commission rather than direct election to choose its prosecutors. Formerly incarcerated people are experts in the justice system, because they have had to survive it. Connecticut should include their expertise in decisions about the justice system’s future.
Launch a national search for the next Commissioner for the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP). As part of that search process, 1) create a search committee that includes community-based and statewide organizations that actively work on police accountability and 2) hold public hearings for community input. Connecticut’s Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection oversees the state police and Police Officer Standards and Training Council. Dora Schriro, Connecticut’s current DESPP Commissioner, has announced that she will step down in January. Our state now has a unique chance to appoint a DESPP commissioner who is committed to police accountability, transparency, and ending abusive and biased police practices that can fuel mass incarceration and racial disparities in the justice system.
Introduce legislation to expand the scope of Connecticut’s anti-discrimination laws to prohibit discrimination on the basis of a criminal record in the realms of employment, housing, public education and accommodations, insurance, credit transactions, public programs and services, and economic development programs. Reentry shouldn’t last a lifetime, but people returning home after incarceration face more than 600 legal barriers to supporting themselves and their families in Connecticut. Our state will be safer and stronger when people returning home after incarceration have a fair chance to support themselves and their families.
Introduce legislation requiring the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice, which oversees prosecutors, to collect and make public statistics, disaggregated by race, gender, and geography, about prosecutors' decisions on charging, bail, diversionary program placements, plea bargains, convictions, and declinations (cases in which it declined to prosecute). Transparency is critical for our democracy. But right now, Connecticut residents are in the dark about prosecutors’ decisions. Requiring the state to publish information about the decisions prosecutors make would enable everyone affected by the justice system to spot and address any problems.
- Introduce legislation requiring the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice to make public all of its policies, protocols, and agreements regarding prosecution guidelines, police-involved incidents, bail, fines and fees, diversionary programs, plea bargains, and immigration. Connecticut residents should know how the state is advising prosecutors, so everyone affected by the justice system can assess whether those guidelines make sense.
These six steps are just some of the early actions Connecticut’s new governor can take to end mass incarceration and eliminate racial disparities in the justice system.
ACLU Smart Justice Connecticut will also advocate for legislators to do their parts throughout the next legislative session, and we’ll push for Governor-elect Lamont to do even more for justice beyond his administration’s first 100 days.