Connecticut’s Department of Criminal Justice held a press conference on July 20 to announce the publication of the Moving Justice Forward Project Report, which it produced in collaboration with the Center for Court Innovation.
The report puts forward an implementation blueprint that sets ten goals for “enhancing efficiency and fairness within the Connecticut criminal justice system.” Each goal also includes steps DCJ can take to ensure it is implemented.
The objective of the goals cover multiple areas of the justice system, from calling for the expanded development of diversionary programs to reduce the number of cases entering the justice system, to increasing the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) of recruitments for DCJ personnel, and improving transparency and communication with the public.
DCJ first announced the project in February 2022. To produce the blueprint, the department announced it would allow staff from the Center for Court Innovation to conduct “interviews with prosecutors, victims, criminal justice system stakeholders and focus groups, observe court hearings and review data” and to examine topics like case initiation, charging, plea-bargaining, sentencing, bail and communications with law enforcement.”
According to John Russotto, the deputy chief state’s attorney, who led the press conference, planning for the project started in late fall 2021. The project progressed with a needs assessment conducted February 2022 through January 2023 and a 2-day roundtable of engaged stakeholders.
Russotto said one of the goals of the program was to improve public perception of the justice system. “The division is doing this so that the citizens of our state, those living in our local communities, have faith in our justice system.” said Russotto.
The report’s first goal is to develop more diversion programs and expand problem-solving approaches to prosecution. According to the report, most of the state’s existing diversion programs are run by the Judicial Branch, not the DCJ, which means prosecutors don’t have access to information about their effectiveness.
Action steps for this goal include expanding DCJ’s existing Early Screening and Implementation program, which includes a dedicated prosecutor working with a resource counselor to screen low-level cases.
Another goal is to strengthen the infrastructure of the state’s attorney’s office at the local level. Objectives include upgrading available technology, reviewing staff levels, and improving discovery collection.
The report also sets increasing the diversity of DCJ staff as a goal and lists steps such as expanding existing fellowship programs, creating a paid internship, and eliminating passage of the bar as an employment requirement as actions DCJ can take to implement this.
Other goals apply to the DCJ’s relationship with the community. Two of the report’s goals are improving community relations and public transparency.
One of the suggested action items for improving community relations is the hiring of a Director of Community Engagement, who would work with local jurisdictions to find areas where more strategies to improve community relations are needed and would regularly communicate and check-in with local jurisdictions.
To increase public transparency, the report suggests updating the DCJ’s mission statement so it has a “clearer public-facing message” and consistent messaging across divisions as they promote their work. Other action steps include an annual report cataloguing the work of the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office and revising victim outreach processes.
Other goals focus on improving the DCJ’s internal organization. The report’s sixth goal aims to improve cohesion between the 13 state’s attorney’s offices, which currently operate independently. To achieve this, the report’s objectives suggest creating an annual state’s attorneys retreat and encouraging state’s attorney to meet regularly in person. It also suggests creating temporary transfer opportunities between jurisdictions.
Another goal focused on improving DCJ’s operations involves collection of data. Currently, DCJ is required to annually report three main areas of data, including the last best offer, prosecutorial diversion, and victim engagement. The report suggests wider adoption of eProsecutor, a case management system, and expanding and improving regular internal reporting of prosecutor data. It also creates an objective for using data to explain its work externally, such as through the creation of public-facing reports and data dashboards.
The report also sets goals for improving how pro se litigants move through the Court system. According to the report, many pro se litigants choose to represent themselves but must conference directly with prosecutors without judicial supervision. “While many of these cases are for low-level offenses, pro se litigants are still accepting plea agreements that have potentially adverse consequences should they fail to meet their obligations—obligations they do not always fully understand before accepting them.” the report states.
To improve this, the report sets objectives of forming a stakeholder coalition to address pro se litigants and develop a guide for prosecutors on how to engage with them.
The report’s final two steps apply to prosecutors. According to the report, the state has no recommended caseload standard for prosecutors even though higher prosecutor workloads can cause backlogs and decrease the justice system’s efficiency. To address this, the report makes normalizing prosecutorial health, wellness, and self-care a priority. It also recommends increasing prosecutor hiring and conducting a state-wide workflow assessment for caseloads.
Finally, the report sets a goal for enhancing and improving prosecutorial training. To do this, objectives include revising the state’s existing Deputy Assistant State’s Attorney training bootcamp, which prosecutors are required to attend within two years of being hired. Other objectives include creating a training plan for all prosecutors, using varied training methods, and formalizing a mentoring program for new prosecutors.