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KELLY McCONNEY MOORE

Thirty-seven years ago, Connecticut’s Chief State’s Attorney lobbied the legislature to oppose a bill establishing a Criminal Justice Commission to appoint state’s attorneys. He claimed this system would create “willy-nilly” “interference” by “political people,” when in fact, as one legislator pointed out, Connecticut’s system of judges appointing prosecutors was alone in the country, itself creating a political “old club or the buddy system where judges … [were] picking their friends as prosecutors.”

Voters soundly rejected the Chief State’s Attorney’s arguments and, in a landslide, chose to create the system we have today, in which the Criminal Justice Commission appoints and reviews state’s attorneys. Yet now, state’s attorneys are using the same tired, decades-old lines about “politics” to oppose a modest, commonsense bill to create data-driven policies to start holding them accountable to their own performance on the job.

Holding prosecutors accountable to standards for fairness and anti-discrimination is exactly the way to ensure prosecutors are not being political in their decision-making about how to treat people. Data-driven performance evaluations and more frequent check-ins with the Criminal Justice Commission are similarly simple, objective tools to make sure state’s attorneys are treating people fairly and to catch any problems before they escalate.

The legislature is currently considering a bill that would start holding prosecutors to fundamental checks and balances. This legislation would shorten state’s attorneys’ term lengths – the time from when a state’s attorney is appointed until their next Criminal Justice Commission reappointment hearing – from eight years to five, bringing them in line with other positions in the Division of Criminal Justice (the Chief State’s Attorney term length is five years, and deputy chief state’s attorneys’ are four) and with national standards. It would also mandate that state’s attorneys create statewide uniform policies for all stages of a case where a prosecutor has discretion and allow the state’s attorneys to actually create the policies. It would require the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) to create publicly available biennial reports summarizing each state’s attorney’s performance, based upon data already being collected by OPM, and require state’s attorneys to check in with the Criminal Justice Commission every two years based on the OPM reports, with opportunities for the state’s attorneys to explain data in the report. The CJC could then consider those data when reappointing state’s attorneys every five years. And finally, it would require additional training for prosecutors regarding racial bias, collateral consequences, sentencing alternatives, mental illness, trauma, and reentry.