When jury trials were halted across Connecticut to limit the spread of COVID-19, the result was a significant backlog of cases. Now with jury trials set to begin, Dan Barrett, legal director for the ACLU of Connecticut, estimates that this backlog could take four years to work through.
In an effort to address the issue, Gov. Ned Lamont aims to use some of Connecticut’s federal COVID-19 aid funding to reduce this backlog more quickly, directing $12 million to increasing staff and expanding community services.
The plan allocates $7 million — split between fiscal year 2022 and 2023 — toward hiring prosecutors and public defenders as temporary contract employees to help resolve pending cases.
“These resources will enable the attorneys to triage cases more efficiently and help prioritize more experienced prosecutors and public defenders for more complex cases,” according to the governor’s plan. “The added capacity will enable the criminal justice system to resolve cases more effectively, prioritizing incarceration for the higher-risk, more serious cases and using diversion and community supervision where appropriate.”
Lamont’s allocation also sets aside $4.75 million for a temporary expansion of community services and treatment, explaining that “resolving the backlog is expected to heighten service need temporarily.”
The remaining $250,000 is directed toward the Court Support Services Division’s Family Services Unit to expand supervised visitation, adult behavioral health and alternatives to incarceration for family civil courts, supporting parenting roles and supervision, and skills for cooperative parenting online programs.
“Any help to move people through the system more efficiently is certainly welcome,” said Stephen Sedensky III, State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury. “It’s something that is needed not just for people who are charged, but also for the victims of crime.”
Sedensky said his office has hired temporary prosecutors in the past, primarily early-career attorneys, to help with the workload while trying to fill open positions. These temporary employees have previously helped deal with day-to-day work to lighten the workload of more seasoned, full-time attorneys, Sedensky said.
During the pandemic, procedures for moving people into halfway houses and treatment programs slowed as agencies prioritized safety.
Christine Perra Rapillo, Connecticut’s Chief Public Defender, said the funding to expand support services will be vital to decreasing the prison population as more cases begin to be processed.
“Adding more capacity to these programs is really going to help move things along,” Rapillo said.
Rapillo said that now, as law students graduate and the February bar results come back, is the perfect time to hire temporary public defenders, and that she hopes the funding will make the positions attractive to attorneys of all experience levels.
“This will give us the ability to bring in some new folks to help deal with cases coming in as the court ramps up,” Rapillo said. “We’re getting postings ready to recruit for these jobs as soon as it’s approved by the legislature.”