Report: Black people prosecuted for felonies at higher rate
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Black criminal defendants in Connecticut are disproportionately represented among those prosecuted for felonies, according to a report from the state’s Division of Criminal Justice released Tuesday.
The analysis of the more than 300,000 records from 2019 found that 28% of cases resolved by prosecutors involved Black defendants, while 26% of defendants were Hispanic. It also showed that Black people, who make up 11% of the state’s population, were prosecuted in 34% of all resolved felonies. Hispanics, who make up 17% of Connecticut residents, were charged with 27% of the felonies prosecuted to completion last year.
White people, who make up 67% of the population, were defendants in 43% of all cases, but just 37% of those felonies, according to the report.
The analysis stems from a 2019 law that requires the state to compile a variety of data from prosecutors, including how many defendants received prison time, plea bargains or diversionary programs. The legislation, which officials said was the first of its kind in the nation, is designed to give lawmakers an idea of what decisions prosecutors are making and to ensure the process is fair.
Marc Pelka, the state’s undersecretary for criminal justice, said that more detailed racial data will come next year after the state rolls out a new case management system that will track how criminal cases flow through the entire criminal justice system, including why decisions were made.
“But we thought it was very important at the outset just to reflect where the composition varies within our state population, within the cases disposed of in 2019 and where in each of the classes of felonies and misdemeanors you see disproportionality,” he said.
The 2019 data found that 62% of all violent crimes were charged in three of the state’s 13 Judicial Districts: Hartford, New Haven, and Fairfield, which also are the districts with the highest minority populations.
The report is the first to look at how all cases are prosecuted in Connecticut and at what point in the process they are resolved. It found that seven of every 10 cases that came into the state’s criminal justice system were misdemeanors and that 95% of all cases were resolved in the state’s Geographical Area courts, where cases first appear, before being transferred to the higher-level Judicial District courts. It also found that the largest number of cases, more than 56,000, were resolved with prosecutors filing a nolle and dropping charges, while there were just over 45,700 convictions and just under 22,000 cases dismissed.
The report found that 18% of case dispositions involved a referral to a state diversion program such as alcohol education or the special form of probation known as accelerated rehabilitation, which results in the eventual dismissal of charges.
The report does not get into the reasons behind the numbers.
Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald, the chairman of the Criminal Justice Commission, noted that it has taken a dozen years to develop and approve a case management system and called the report a good start.
“I know a lot of this information will be very useful to policy makers,” he said. “We have a different role. Frankly now we have a benchmark that you have helped us establish so that when we do talk to you a year from now, we will have a much better idea of how we are going to use this information strategically in the appointment of state’s attorneys and the chief states attorney.”