2010 Judiciary Committee Outlook, Part I

January 22, 2010

As the recession continues to squeeze our precious tax dollars, I am honored to enter my 18th year as a state senator and 10th as the ranking senator on our Judiciary Committee. I believe our committee is one of the most bipartisan in the legislature, and while our struggling economy will give us plenty of new challenges, we will all work together to fashion the best solutions possible. As we consider new proposals and revisit past legislation, experts in their given fields, administrators and attorneys, will come before us to testify. While the insight they bring is invaluable, it really is the public’s opinion, the “campfires of gentle people” as Garrison Keillor once put it, which will guide our way as we consider important legislative initiatives.

Some of the areas which I believe will keep us quite busy on the Judiciary Committee in 2010, especially during the “short session” which goes from February to May, are outlined below:

An amazing amount of sitting judges, forty-nine at last count (along with two Workers’ Compensation Commissioners) will come before us this year for their reconfirmation hearings. If we spend just ten minutes as a committee speaking with each judge that still adds up to nearly nine hours of hearings. While some judges will not even take 10 minutes to reconfirm, there are always surprises along the way, especially with this many jurists before us.

Diminished Revenue’s Impact on Courts and Resources
Another topic that will surely keep us busy will be the recession with its concomitant diminished tax revenues and impact on judicial resources. Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers working with and through Chief Court Administrator Barbara M. Quinn and her staff will keep us informed as to what difficult choices are being contemplated. Already in December we were informed that the law libraries in some courts would be closed to the general public and practicing attorneys alike. Further cuts are inevitable and the wholesale closing of some courthouses is not beyond imagination. Also, court support services, parole and probation services, public defender services and the efforts of the 500 prosecutors, inspectors and support staff within the Division of Criminal Justice led by Chief State’s Attorney Kevin T. Kane will all be carefully reviewed to see if any policy changes can help bring about efficiencies while still maintaining our unswerving commitment to justice.

The Judiciary Committee has cognizance over Connecticut’s Department of Corrections, a behemoth with eighteen total correctional facilities, 6,570 total employees, approximately 18,300 inmates as of this writing, and a total annual budget of nearly $680 million.

Connecticut has taken a national lead in trying to break the cycle of recidivism and reintegrate non-violent offenders back into society. As we continue along this path efforts are being made to close at least one correctional facility, Webster C.I. in Cheshire, and there are beliefs that more closures may be on the way. While we are at 18,300 inmates now, many believe the facilities’ design capacity is really 17,000, or even 15,000. Inmate numbers only tell half the story; the ratio of inmates to correctional officers is also critical, especially in light of the results of the state’s Retirement Incentive Program. As we embark on a path to close prisons the Judiciary Committee will scrutinize these efforts to make sure that we do not jeopardize the health and safety of correctional officers, inmates, or anyone else within the communities where these facilities are located.