The ACLU-CT believes that everyone has a role to play in ending the pervasive system of mass incarceration. That is especially true for people operating within the criminal legal system, like state’s attorneys, whose decisions can either perpetuate mass incarceration or begin to work towards a different model of justice.
On March 22nd, 2023 ACLU of Connecticut Smart Justice Leader Shelby Henderson testified in support of S.B. 1070 during its public hearing in the Judiciary Committee. The following is her testimony:
Good day Senator Winfield, Representative Stafstrom, ranking members Senator Kissel and Representative Fishbein, and distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee.
My name is Shelby Henderson; I am a formerly incarcerated person, a Smart Justice Leader with the ACLU of Connecticut, and a student studying for a dual MPA/Law degree at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and City University of New York School of Law.
I am here to testify in support of Senate Bill 1070: An Act Concerning Prosecutorial Accountability. I am here because I believe that Connecticut deserves a criminal legal system that will treat everyone fairly no matter where they live. I am here because I believe in accountability.
I first testified before this committee on prosecutor accountability in 2021 and again in 2022!
I am continuing to express concern over anecdotal yet alarming reports of racial discrimination in criminal prosecution. Pointedly, my 2021 and 2022 testimony echoed not only what I have experienced to be true but also repeated what Connecticut’s 2020 Prosecutor Data Analysis also confirmed. Pointedly, in every single GA court in Connecticut, Black people are convicted more often than white people. There is not a single GA court in Connecticut without a racial disparity in conviction rates.
In the most recent Analysis of Prosecuter Data OPM concededly reported they could not answer the question of what impact prosecutors have on well-documented disparities in the criminal justice system. The actions of prosecutors—not judges—unbound effectively predetermine the outcome of most criminal cases. In Connecticut that means BLACK residence are more likely to receive harsher sentences, and we see the outcomes. According to the 2019 Census, Connecticut’s population is 13% African American. Yet, Black people make up 44% of the incarcerated population.
No other actor in the criminal justice system drives case outcomes as profoundly as the prosecutor. At the start of any criminal case, irrespective of factors guilt or legal evidence, States Attorneys can add additional charges, drop charges, and have discretion when entering plea bargains and they even decide whether to prosecute or dismiss a case —all without oversight or performance evaluation.
Despite years of community complaints.
The lack of concern is not what I call protecting and serving all of Connecticut. State’s Attorney should be representing the interests of the people of Connecticut—that includes incarcerated and formally incarcerated individuals. PEOPLE LIKE ME.
Reasonably my scrutiny focusses on fairness and efficiency. How do I know if the State’s Attorney are fairly implementing justice? Or more appropriately, the question is…how would you know if they were not? The only way I could comment on their work is once every eight years when a State’s Attorney is up for an appointment. It is necessary to require State’s Attorneys to be transparent and accountable for the decisions they make.
Connecticut deserves a system that will treat everyone fairly, no matter where you live, with transparency, accountability, and public input, so I urge the members of the Judiciary Committee to support SB 1070 and thank you for listening to my testimony