TESTIMONY OF THE DIVISION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE
STATE AGENCY BUDGET PRESENTATION.
JOINT COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS
March 4, 2019
The Division of Criminal Justice expresses its appreciation to the Joint Committee on Appropriations for this opportunity to provide additional information concerning the Governor’s Recommended Budget for the biennium ending June 30, 2021. We also extend appreciation to the Governor and to the Office of Policy and Management for their thorough and careful consideration of the Division’s budget submission. We look forward to working with the Committee as you proceed with your review and examination of the Division’s mission and goals and determination of the resources necessary to assure our continued ability to properly fulfill our constitutionally mandated mission.
The Division of Criminal Justice is an independent, executive branch agency charged under the Connecticut Constitution with the responsibility to investigate and prosecute all criminal matters in the state. The Division is composed of the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney in Rocky Hill, which includes administrative oversight functions for the agency as a whole and specialized legal and prosecutorial units, and the Offices of the State’s Attorneys for each of the 13 Judicial Districts. Like the Chief State’s Attorney, the State’s Attorney is also an independent constitutional officer and chief law enforcement officer for the Judicial District he or she serves. The agency traces its origins to April 1705 and the appointment of the first public prosecutor in what was then Colonial America. The agency today includes nearly 500 employees working in some four dozen locations throughout the state.
With such a long history behind us, the Division readily acknowledges the continued fiscal restraints under which all levels of government must function. We believe that ours is a particularly well-managed agency in that we have always strived to live within our means. In fact, the only time the Division was forced to seek a deficiency appropriation was in one fiscal year in the previous biennium and then only to pay for accumulated leave payouts to retired employees that historically had been paid in full from the state’s general Reserve for Salary Adjustments account and not individual agency budgets.
As a result of this continued fiscal restraint, due largely to budget holdbacks and rescissions, the Division now has approximately seventy vacancies in all areas including administration, investigation and prosecution. Our specialized units have been reduced to skeleton crews. Our Statewide Prosecution Bureau, which historically has handled matters including public corruption and white-collar crime, has just two Inspectors. The dedicated Unemployment Compensation Fraud Unit, which recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution to the state, was disbanded when the grant funding through the Department of Labor expired. The Cold Case/Shooting Task Force Unit has but a fraction of its previous staff and is largely limited to cold case investigations as most of the prosecutors and Inspectors previously assigned there have been moved to fill critical vacancies doing similar work in the State’s Attorneys’ offices. This has severely limited, if not eliminated, our ability to undertake complicated investigations in areas such as public corruption or complex financial crimes. In fact, it is largely due to the commitment and dedication of valued employees that we have been able to maintain any involvement at all in these areas.
It is for this reason that we find a degree of relief in the appropriations and personnel figures (FTEs) in the Governor’s Recommended Budget. The Governor is recommending 486 FTE positions. If the Division is allowed to fill all of these positions, we would be able to replace staff in targeted areas. Equally important, the Division would have the ability to prepare for an expected onslaught of retirements that is anticipated to peak by 2022 and remove from our ranks a healthy percentage of our most senior and experienced prosecutors, Inspectors and administrative employees. More than thirty percent of the Division’s currently filled positions/employees will be eligible for normal retirement by June of 2022. It is not enough to simply wait and replace these employees when they retire. We must begin hiring their successors now so that they can get the training and experience necessary to prepare the agency for the impending loss of veteran talent.
It is for this reason that the Division respectfully asks the Committee to consider additional resources for training. The $27,000 included in the Governor’s Recommended Budget will not go very far to cover existing needs let alone to train the new workforce that we may be employing in a very few years. Specifically, the Division respectfully requests resources to hire a training officer/coordinator who would not only provide or arrange the wide variety of training programs and presentations needed but who would also stay abreast of developments in the law and related areas, such as forensic science, to assure that the training we do offer is addressing the most current pressing needs. This is especially critical given the continued developments in technology, such as the tremendous demands being placed on prosecutors, information technology and support staff due to the expanding use of body cameras by police.
Body cameras are just one example of how legislative enactments have placed tremendous demands on the Division of Criminal Justice without corresponding resources. We have both a legal and ethical obligation not only to disclose to the defense all body camera footage, but also to have reviewed the footage ourselves to identify any potentially exculpatory material. Consider that even a relatively minor assault case may bring a response of several police officers, each of whom is wearing a body camera. We have the obligation to review the footage from each camera, which is becoming nearly impossible given the number of cases and amount of material the cameras are producing.
This is one of the reasons the Division requested through OPM, and now asks the Appropriations Committee, for the additional funding to hire another thirteen paralegal/information technology personnel. One of these positions would be assigned to the State’s Attorney’s Office in each Judicial District and would be responsible for assisting in the processing of body camera footage. Additionally, these personnel would be responsible for assisting with the implementation of the Division’s new Case Management System (CMS). The General Assembly has invested significant resources in the CMS, which will put in place a state-of-the-art electronic system to collect and share the mass of criminal records, evidence and other information now kept almost exclusively in paper files. This system would be particularly helpful in addressing the issues raised in the Governor’s bill, S.B. No. 880, An Act Concerning Fairness and Transparency in the Criminal Justice System. It goes without saying that without additional IT/support personnel the Division currently simply does not have the capability to collect and organize the data envisioned in the bill. The five IT personnel now serving four dozen locations and nearly 500 employees statewide are already stretched to the limit and their duties do not yet even include the CMS. It is to their credit alone that the Division’s IT operation works as well as it does now.
Innovation such as that envisioned with the implementation of the CMS is one of the reasons the Division has been able to meet its constitutional mission and serve the public and public safety. Another example, and another area where we are seeking additional support, involves the Early Screening and Intervention (ESI) pilot program, which we have described in previous reports to the Appropriations Committee. We are pleased to report this year the very promising results of this pilot program, which was initiated by the Division and encouraged by the General Assembly with the passage of Public Act 17-205. The report required by the public act has been submitted to the Joint Committee on Judiciary and is available on the Division’s website.
ESI is a criminal justice reform initiative built on the fundamental principle that it is the prosecutor who serves as “gatekeeper” to the criminal justice system through the basic process of deciding what to charge, or whether to charge at all. By placing renewed emphasis on this role, cases can be examined at the earliest stages and decisions made as to the best outcome with fewer court appearances and less reliance on diversionary programs or other options. An ESI unit consisting of a prosecutor and resource counselor screens cases and identifies those low-level offenders whose criminal behavior may best be addressed through referral to a community social service agency or other program. The program operates in the Geographical Area (G.A.) courts in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, New London, Norwich and Waterbury. Of those cases referred, two-thirds were diverted to either community-based services or a judicially supervised diversionary program and more than 89 percent of those diversions were completed successfully. Nearly 90 percent of ESI diversions had no more than two appearances before a judge, saving time and, as a result, resources.
The ESI program has been run almost exclusively with grant funding from the Herbert and Nell Singer Foundation and support from the Center for Court Innovation and OPM. The pilot program shows the great promise that this approach offers to both improve the quality of outcomes for the public and the offender while saving the state time and resources in the process. With the grant funding expiring, the Division respectfully requests the Committee’s consideration of additional resources to establish the program on a permanent basis. We estimate the cost at $840,056 (which includes seven prosecutors and seven resource counselors) for fiscal 2020, but again believe the program benefits outweigh that cost to the extent that establishment on a statewide basis may be warranted when feasible.
In conclusion, the Division of Criminal Justice again thanks the Committee for allowing us the opportunity to address the Governor’s Recommended Budget and the Division’s programs and needs. We would be happy to provide any additional information or to answer any questions the Committee might have.
Division of Criminal Justice Presentation on Early Screening and Intervention Program (PDF File - Size 1MB)