It’s pumpkin spice season, which means some new Connecticut state laws go into effect soon. This year, the ACLU of Connecticut testified on more than 100 bills at the Connecticut General Assembly, and ACLU of Connecticut supporters sent more than 1,000 emails to state and local officials to support and oppose bills.
These are some of the new Connecticut civil rights and liberties laws that take full or partial effect on October 1, 2019:
Increasing Prosecutorial Transparency
An Act Increasing Fairness and Transparency in the Criminal Justice System makes Connecticut one of the first states with a wide-ranging law requiring transparency about trends in prosecutors’ decisions. The law has several deadlines for prosecutors to begin reporting information. On October 1, the parts of the law opening the Criminal Justice Commission (the body that appoints prosecutors) to public input takes effect.
As of October 1, the Criminal Justice Commission must post its meeting notices on its website. Also as of October 1, the Criminal Justice Commission must start holding its meetings to appoint, reappoint, remove, or discipline prosecutors in the Legislative Office Building (instead of in the Division of Criminal Justice, which is where the Chief State’s Attorney’s office is located) and include opportunities for public testimony.
Connecticut is about to begin the search for a new Chief State’s Attorney – the most powerful prosecutor in the state. The Criminal Justice Commission will oversee the search and appointment process for that new prosecutor, and these changes will play an important role in increasing the chance for people to talk about the need for someone who supports ending mass incarceration and racism in the justice system.
Toward Transparency about Police Violence
For years, the ACLU of Connecticut has been calling on the Connecticut General Assembly to require the state to collect information about every time police hurt, kill, or chase someone – information that people in Connecticut cannot easily gather. This year, Connecticut finally adopted a law that represents a first step toward police transparency. Parts of the law went into effect earlier this year. On October 1, the following will become state law:
- Connecticut’s definition of police “use of force” expands to include chokeholds and pursuits.
- Police departments must publicly release body and dashboard camera footage, upon request from a member of the public, within 96 hours after a police employee uses force against a person or if the police employee is under disciplinary investigation for the recorded incident. State law requires privacy protections for bystanders and victims of police violence who are recorded.
- Every Connecticut police department must submit annual use of force reports, including the underlying incident reports for every time police use force against someone, to the state.
- Prosecutors must give a preliminary report to the legislature’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committees five days after the cause of death determination for someone who has been killed by police.
- Prosecutors must investigate every time police kill someone or use deadly force and make that report available online.
- Police employees are prohibited from shooting into or at, or standing in front of, a fleeing vehicle in most cases.
- Police employees must notify the local police department if they are entering another jurisdiction during a pursuit.
Limiting Local Government Cooperation with ICE
Connecticut’s TRUST Act was designed to protect immigrants in our state from the federal government’s deportation machine. This new state law strengthens the TRUST Act to prohibit state and local law enforcement from serving federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers without a valid federal judicial warrant. The law is clear: if ICE wishes to detain or deport someone, it can expend its own resources and time doing so. Local and state law enforcement are under no obligation to assist with this process. Local and state police do not need to arrest, transport, or detain people for ICE, nor do local jails, courthouses, or prisons need to allow ICE to roam their facilities.
Changes to Special Parole
For years, the ACLU of Connecticut has advocated strongly for the state to decrease “special parole” – an extreme form of post-incarceration supervision that the state has over-used, especially against Black and Latinx people. Under special parole, someone can be sent back to prison for something as minor as showing up late for an appointment with a parole officer. From 2008 to 2018, while the number of people sentenced in Connecticut overall declined by 34%, the number of people on special parole increased by 142% -- reflecting over-use, not an uptick in crime. Connecticut also disproportionately sentences people of color to special parole and disproportionately sends Black people who are on special parole back to prison.
The legislature passed one law to decrease special parole in 2018, and it passed another in 2019. This year’s new law, which took partial effect this summer and becomes completely effective on October 1, allows the Board of Pardons and Parole to discharge someone from special parole at any time if they have demonstrated successful reentry into society. If implemented correctly, this law could reduce the number of people who are on special parole and potentially alleviate the high numbers of people of color sent back to prison for special parole violations.
Transparency about Prosecutors’ Use of Jailhouse Witnesses
Jailhouse informants often receive benefits if they testify, which can incentivize people to make false accusations. Unfortunately, this has led to innocent people going to prison and even ending up on death row. According to a March 2019 report by the Innocence Project, “Jailhouse informant testimony is one of the leading contributing factors of wrongful convictions nationally, playing a role in nearly one in five of the 364 DNA-based exoneration cases.”
This law is designed to create safeguards against the use of unreliable jailhouse testimony that could impact the outcome of a case. It requires prosecutors to provide information to people’s defense teams about jailhouse witnesses and their testimony and mandates the court to hold a hearing, upon request from a defense team, to decide whether a jailhouse witness’s testimony will be admissible in a case.
Information for People who are Incarcerated and their Families
According to federal statistics, 72 people died in Connecticut state and federal prisons from suicide, drug or alcohol intoxication, accidents, or homicide between 2001 and 2014. Connecticut has a legal and moral responsibility to keep people safe and healthy while they are incarcerated. Yet people who are incarcerated often face barriers to holding the government accountable when they are harmed in Connecticut prisons or jails.
This new state law allows people who are incarcerated, or family members suing on their behalf, to obtain Department of Correction files related to lawsuits for death or permanent injuries to themselves or their loved one while incarcerated. These files include all personnel, protocol or policy review, medical files, medical reviews, corrective action plans or summary reports. The law also requires the Department of Correction to notify someone’s next of kin if they are killed or incapacitated from an injury while they are incarcerated, unless that person previously requested the Department of Correction not to do so.
No one should be harmed or killed while they are incarcerated. But if they are, this new law, if followed and implemented correctly, will give people who are incarcerated and their families the information they need to build a good case.
Getting good laws on the books is critically important for helping people to defend and advance their rights, in and outside of courts. But even the best civil rights and civil liberties laws only help people if they are implemented fully and correctly.
The ACLU of Connecticut will be keeping a close eye out to see how the government responds to these new laws, and our Smart Justice campaign is already hard at work to find out how state prosecutors plan to follow their new transparency requirements.