CSAO: Appropriations Committee - February 22, 2017 - Agency Budget Presentation

TESTIMONY OF THE DIVISION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE

AGENCY BUDGET PRESENTATION

JOINT COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS
February 22, 2017

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, 2019. We also extend our 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 examination of the Division’s mission and goals and the determination of the resources necessary to assure our continued ability to properly fulfill our constitutionally mandated mission.

The Division is acutely aware of the continued financial difficulties facing our state and its people, and we remain firm in our longstanding commitment to effectively manage operations to achieve the greatest return on the minimum investment. Once again, the Division of Criminal Justice has preserved its record of never having requested a deficiency appropriation, which is an even greater accomplishment as resources have become severely limited. Further, the Division has taken additional steps to reduce spending, including the layoff of approximately 43 per diem and temporary employees at the end of FY16 and a virtual freeze on all hiring since then. As of February 1, 2017, the Division has 29 vacancies. The impact of these reductions is particularly acute in an agency such as the Division where personnel costs account for the overwhelming portion of our budget. Given this reality, the Division cannot overstate the critical need to rescind the carryover into the new biennium of the 2016-17 FY holdbacks and other adjustments, which total a net of approximately $1 million and amount to approximately 16 positions.

In terms o {Division of Criminal Justice positions 2009-2017} f positions, the Division of Criminal Justice now finds itself at the lowest levels of authorized full-time equivalent positions in eight years. Our historically high position count occurred in FY09 when the Division had 532 authorized positions. At the present time, the Division is authorized for 486 FTE’s, but it must be noted that this figure does not include the 29 positions that are vacant and effectively frozen. Nor does the figure include the 43 per diem employees who were terminated in FY16. To reiterate, since the start of this fiscal year alone, the number of FTE’s has declined by those 29 vacancies plus the 43 terminated per diems. This represents an approximate 14 percent reduction in total positions in the last eight years.

The most recent reductions have exacerbated the historic underfunding of the Division when compared to other jurisdictions. Connecticut prosecutors average 649 felony and misdemeanor cases each year, compared to the nationally recommended ratio of 150 felonies or 300 misdemeanors each year (See: The State (Never) Rests: How Excessive Prosecutorial Caseloads Harm Criminal Defendants, Northwestern University School of Law, Northwestern Law Review, 2011). The high caseload has required the Division to rely on the per diem employees, all but a handful of whom have now been terminated. Yet these cutbacks have occurred as the demands on the Division and its personnel have continued to increase. While it is true that crime rates, and the number of cases added, has declined in recent years, the overall workload has, in fact, continued to increase. {Filings per prosecutor}

The number of appeals from criminal convictions is at an all-time high, increasing by nearly 80 percent in the one-year period alone from FY14 to FY15. In calendar year 2015, nearly 300 new appeals were added, leaving a total of nearly twice as many appellate cases open at year’s end. Habeas petitions also are at all-time highs, up 76 percent since FY11 to 1,564 open cases at the end of FY16. Motions to correct sentences, petitions for new trials, pardons and paroles cases and probation review matters are also up significantly. Additionally, and potentially even more significant, the amount of time and resources that must be devoted to individual cases continues to grow due to legislative enactments and other developments in the law. This includes recorded interrogations and the rapidly increased use of body cameras by police officers. Already, on average prosecutors in the Part B (Geographical Area) courts spend 15 percent of their time reviewing and analyzing recorded interrogations, recorded witness statements and crime scene videos. For the Part A (Judicial District) courts where the most serious crimes are handled, prosecutors devote at least 30 percent of their time to these activities. Such review is not only critical to the preparation of the prosecutor’s case, but it is equally important in terms of providing such evidence as appropriately required to enable the defense to present its case so the interests of justice are served.

The reductions in personnel have also had a significant, negative impact on state revenue. Among the programs that have been eliminated is the Regionalized Infractions Adjudication Program (RIAP), which utilized per diem prosecutors to process a significant percentage of motor vehicle and other infractions throughout the state. It is now estimated that this will result in an annualized reduction of approximately $2.5 million in revenue from fines. Additionally, contributions to victim compensation programs also will see a significant reduction in revenue (it is a longstanding practice to resolve certain infraction matters by allowing the defendant to contribute to the victims’ fund). Not only has this situation cost the state critically needed revenue, but it also threatens to undermine public safety. Rigorous enforcement of traffic laws, which accounts for the lion’s share of infraction revenue, is critical to public safety. Safer highways save lives.

Additionally, budget cuts already ordered have required the Division to eliminate the separate Asset Forfeiture Bureau in the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney. This bureau allowed us to take a centralized, uniform approach to the enforcement of laws allowing the state to ask the court to forfeit resources utilized in the commission of criminal acts, most commonly drug crimes. The proceeds from these proceedings were distributed according to a formula established by the General Assembly to support the law enforcement agencies that investigated the criminal activity (including ten percent of which is provided to the Division of Criminal Justice) and to support drug treatment and education programs. The elimination of this centralized unit has resulted in a continuing decrease in the amount collected through forfeiture. Historically, when we eliminated the Drug Asset Forfeiture Unit in FY 13, asset forfeiture collections decreased dramatically, by $2.1 million, or 65.6 percent, from $3.2 million in FY 12 to $1.1 million in FY 13.

The Division also must address the impact of potential additional staff reductions as referenced in the Governor’s recommended budget in the event that collective bargaining fails to produce the desired savings to the state overall. The Governor’s recommended budget estimates that such an outcome could result in the elimination of another 46 positions in the Division of Criminal Justice. This simply would be devastating and would very likely force the closure of multiple agency locations and potentially the unavoidable decision not to prosecute (the entering of a nolle prosecuti) in a large volume of cases. Again, such a course certainly would not serve the interests of justice or the public safety.

In light of the state’s continued dire fiscal situation, the Division reaffirms its commitment to constantly review our operations to achieve better efficiency and more effective and just disposition of criminal matters. Specifically, the Division respectfully requests the Committee’s support for an initiative that represents a dramatic new approach to the handling of criminal cases, most notably lesser crimes that contribute significantly to the cost of the criminal justice system. For the past several years, we have pursued and obtained grant funding with the goal of developing an Early Screening and Intervention Program to focus on early intake and screening of cases.

The goal of this initiative is simply to place the emphasis at the very first stages of involvement with the criminal justice system. While the police make arrests, it is the prosecutor who actually decides what to charge, and, more importantly, whether to charge at all. The Early Screening and Intervention Program proposes to build on the historic role of the prosecutor so the appropriate charging decisions can be made at outset: whether to charge and, if so, the appropriate charge; the appropriate conditions of release, if charges are brought; and the possible outcome to seek for a just resolution of the case and to serve the public interest. Recall that the case is entitled "State vs. So-and-so," not "Division of Criminal Justice vs. So-and-So." We represent the people of Connecticut and as such must have the ability to properly discharge our constitutional responsibility to seek justice on their behalf.

What are the expected benefits of such an approach? Some cases, and it is impossible to give an estimate of how many, would be dropped at the outset, i.e., the prosecutor would review the arrest and exercise his or her constitutional discretion not to charge. Other cases may be resolved with fewer continuances (consuming less time and effort on the part of the criminal justice system as a whole), as the closer examination at the start allows for determining a possible outcome earlier. Other cases may be resolved immediately with a referral to a treatment or other social service agency. Others may not be resolved immediately but may no longer lead to pre-trial incarceration as the initial examination may lead to other conditions on release. Still others that may now end up with assignment to a diversionary program (with its additional costs) may be resolved without such action. Again, it is impossible to give a specific estimate of expected savings, but the potential clearly exists in terms of quicker and more just disposition or cases and better outcomes for all involved. This approach further enhances the public safety for while it recognizes that some cases should be disposed of quickly, it also addresses the cases on the opposite end of the spectrum: prosecutors will give closer scrutiny to more serious crimes where additional investigation may be needed or where more serious consequences are in order. Public safety demands no less.

The Division is currently utilizing grant funds from non-state sources to further develop and refine the Early Screening and Intervention approach. However, in order for this initiative to proceed – and to more accurately assess potential savings and quality of outcomes – the Division requires the resources to move forward. As such, the Division respectfully requests the Committee’s consideration of, in addition to the rescission of the carryover of the FY16 holdbacks and other adjustments, sufficient additional funding be provided to move forward with the Early Screening and Intervention Program.

In conclusion, the Division must take this opportunity to publicly express its appreciation and gratitude to our dedicated workforce. These are the professionals who have continued to meet increased workloads and demands with fewer resources each year. Their commitment to the State of Connecticut and its people, and more importantly, to the pursuit of justice, is to be applauded. We publicly thank them for their efforts.

The Division also wishes to again thank the Appropriations Committee for providing this opportunity for participation in the budget process. We stand ready to provide any additional information or to answer any questions the Committee might have.



Content Last Modified on 3/22/2017 9:25:24 AM