AP NEWS

Those charged ‘low-level’ crimes spending less time in court

February 13, 2019

A new pilot program designed to divert low-level offenders to diversionary programs and social services is having a positive impact in New Haven, Bridgeport, Norwalk, Stamford and other test courts throughout the state, officials from the Division of Criminal Justice said.

The results of the Early Screening and Intervention program show that 89.4 percent of cases had two appearances or less before a judge since its inception in mid-2017, said a report forwarded to the state Legislature’s Judiciary Committee Feb. 1.

The program, funded by private support from the Herbert and Nell Singer Foundation and the Center for Court Innovation, uses dedicated prosecutors to screen low-level cases at their earliest point, allowing court staff to examine the underlying contributing factors to criminal behavior, officials said.

ESI operates on a pilot basis in the Geographical Area courts in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, New London, Norwich and Waterbury, officials said. The courts in Stamford and Norwalk were involved in the program for comparison purposes, they added.

Rather than have the cases go through an extensive pre-trial process, defendants are hooked up with social services or diverted to existing Judicial Branch programs, saving time and money for the state’s court system, Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said in a press release announcing the results.

“By allowing prosecutors to focus more attention on evaluating cases at the earliest stage of the judicial process, we are seeing that many cases involving low-level crimes can be resolved in less time and with better results for all concerned,” Kane said.

ESI is used to identify and track low-level offenders such as homeless individuals, those who are addicted or mentally ill, to provide community support rather than court and jail time, the report said.

Prosecutors assigned to the program focus on screening cases when they first come into the system before the arrested person makes a court appearance, officials said. The prosecutor works with a resource coordinator to determine which cases can be better handled by a referral to a service or program in the community, rather than a lengthy court proceeding, officials said.

“The program reinforces the historical role of the prosecutor, which is not only to determine what to charge, but whether to charge at all,” Kane said. “It is not just another addition to the already long list of diversionary programs in that it does not divert a case that has already gone into the system, but provides intervention and resolution at the outset.”

As of Nov. 30, 2018, 10,676 cases were reviewed through the ESI program for possible intervention with 2,514 accepted, DCJ officials said. Of those, 66 percent or 1,658 were diverted to either community based services or Judicial Branch diversionary programs, the report said.

If expanded to courts throughout the state, an estimated 4,300 cases would be diverted annually, DCJ officials said in the report. The impact would be 54,000 less court appearances for the public at a savings of 4,500 hours of court time that prosecutors, public defenders, judges and other court staff could use to focus on more serious cases, the report concluded.