The following list links to ongoing projects developed entirely or in part by the Connecticut Sentencing Commission in concert with its university and criminal justice partners. Please click the project link for more information.
The Sentencing Commission maintains a committee that focuses specifically on crimes involving animal cruelty. Animals are a particularly vulnerable population, and animal abuse is often an early indicator of future abuse towards humans. The committee is currently exploring issues surrounding mens rea, mandatory cruelty reporting requirements, and animal possession bans. The committee has developed two proposals that have received the Commission’s endorsement. The first proposal would fix statutory errors that make it impossible to charge individuals who committed bestiality with sexual assault in the fourth degree, and the second proposal would allow the court to appoint an advocate for criminal proceeding regarding the welfare or custody of any animal owned or kept by a person. Current law only allows appointment of an advocate in cases involving a cat or a dog.
Members of a subcommittee of the Sentencing Commission meet frequently to discuss proposals that would address issues people face as a result of being incarcerated or having a criminal record. Given the wide range of issues that fall within this category, the subcommittee has considered and discussed numerous proposals in recent years, including different types of “clean slate” or automatic erasure systems, the financial costs associated with incarceration, and the barriers that formerly-incarcerated people face when attempting to attain professional or occupational licenses.
In 2014, the General Assembly passed Public Act 14-27, An Act Concerning the Recommendations of the Connecticut Sentencing Commission with Respect to Certificates of Rehabilitation. The statute recognized that criminal convictions can affect a person’s ability to obtain employment or the professional license required in certain occupations. These barriers, along with financial instability, have been linked to higher recidivism. Research shows that offenders who are gainfully employed are rearrested at a lower rate than those who are not employed. The Certificates were intended to provide relief from these barriers.
Since October 1, 2014, The Board of Pardons and Paroles and Judicial Branch Court Support Services Division, which administers adult probation, have been authorized to award certificates of employability to eligible offenders. The Sentencing Commission was responsible the Public Act for evaluating the effectiveness of the certificates in reducing the barriers to employment faced by people with a criminal record. The longitudinal evaluation process began on October 1, 2015 — one year after the new law took effect on October 1, 2014 — and ended on January 15, 2018.
Documents & Information
Connecticut Certificates of Employability Final Program Evaluation Report
Court Support Services Division Site
Board of Pardons & Paroles Site
In 2018, the Commission approved a proposal from the University of Maryland to perform an evidence-based assessment of sentencing practices in Connecticut. The authors completed this study and presented their findings on risk-and needs-based assessment tools and sentencing to the Commission in September 2019. They found that offenders with higher risk scores were more likely to be incarcerated in Connecticut, which suggests that Connecticut’s sentencing practices are already relatively risk-and needs-based. The researchers did find, however, that link between sentence length and risk score was relatively weak.
Evaluation of the Impact of Risk and Needs-Based Sentencing in Connecticut
In 2015, Governor Dannel Malloy requested that the Commission undertake a study of Connecticut’s pretrial justice system and develop proposed reforms. This initial effort produced a comprehensive evaluation at the pretrial justice systems in Connecticut and other jurisdictions. Recommendations in the report served as the basis of HB 7044, An Act Concerning Pretrial Justice Reform passed in 2017
Additional progress was made in 2019 when the Judicial Rules Committee of the Superior Court approved a Commission proposal that automatically granted defendants the ability to secure release through a ten percent deposit for bail bonds of $20,000 or less. In addition, the proposal for the first time introduced ten percent cash bonds at the level of arrest at the police departments. The new rule went into effect on January 1, 2020.
As the Commission continues its work on pretrial release and detention, it focuses primarily on 1) assessing racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and gendered disparities in pretrial justice outcomes, and 2) developing a proposal that would reduce the population of pretrial detainees through the reduction or elimination of monetary bail conditions. In 2022, the Commission published a report in response to a letter from President Pro Tempore of the State Senate Martin Looney, who has requested the Commission to develop a proposal that would reduce the pretrial detained population and eliminate money bail as a detention mechanism.
Urban Institute’s Report on Connecticut’s Pretrial Tool Assessment
Public Act 17-145
Report to the Governor and General Assembly on Pretrial Release and Detention
Sentencing Commission Letter on Automatic Ten Percent Bail Option
Letter from Senator Martin Looney
Second, the Commission successfully advocated for the largest change to eligibility for sentence modification since early 1980s. Sentence modification is a process that gives judicial discretion to re- evaluate and modify a criminal sentence. Prior law required both the defendant and prosecutors to agree for the court to hold a modification hearing when the defendant’s entire sentence—including both executed and suspended incarceration—exceeded three years. The Commission’s proposal allows the court to modify any plea-bargained sentence of less than seven years of actual, executed incarceration without prosecutorial assent. In addition, those defendants whose sentence is a result of a trial may now petition for sentence modification without agreement from the state.
Since then, the Commission has continued to explore changes to Connecticut’s sentencing laws. In 2023, the Commission issued a proposal that would provide discretion to judges when sentencing individuals for motor vehicle crimes with mandatory minimum terms of incarceration. The Commission is also proposing to expand eligibility for Public Act 15-84 parole for individuals who were convicted of crimes and sentenced to lengthy terms of incarceration when they were under the age of 21.
For several years, the Commission has supported the restoration of the right to vote for individuals on parole for a felony conviction. In 2019, the Sentencing Commission’s Subcommittee on Incarceration and the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction formed a working group to explore issues encountered by eligible individuals when voting from Connecticut’s correctional facilities. To better understand these issues, the working group conducted voter registration and absentee ballot application drives at York Correctional Institute in 2019 for incarcerated misdemeanants and pretrial detainees. Based on their experiences, the group cataloged the issues faced by incarcerated voters, including obstacles to applying for and obtaining absentee ballots.
In 2020, the working group continued discussing potential policy solutions and ultimately developed a proposal that expands voting rights to most incarcerated individuals and eliminates many of the obstacles faced when voting from custody. The proposal mirrors the “Permanent Absentee Ballot” status currently available to disabled voters. To provide background on the enfranchisement portion of the proposal, the Commission also hosted a presentation by Dana Paikowsky of the Campaign Legal Center.
The Commission voted in December 2020 to recommend expanding suffrage to all incarcerated individuals except for those sentenced to life without the possibility of release. This proposal was submitted to the Government Administration and Elections Committee for consideration by the General Assembly in the 2021 legislative session, and the Commission has resubmitted this proposal in 2022..
During the 2015 legislative session, the Connecticut General Assembly passed Special Act 15-2, An Act Concerning A Study of the Sexual Offender Registration System. The Act required the Commission to take a comprehensive look at the registration, management, and sentencing of sexual offenders in Connecticut.
After two years of study and research, the Commission has published a comprehensive report and a legislative proposal to transition Connecticut’s Sexual Offender Registry from an offense-based to a risk-based system. The proposal also called for a removal mechanism from the registry. The Commission is currently working with key stakeholders in the criminal justice system and the General Assembly to pass these recommended changes.
As part of this effort, the Commission also developed a proposal updating the sentencing structure for child pornography offenses.
Special Act 15-2
2016 Interim Report: Special Committee on Sex Offenders
A Study of the Sex Offender Sentencing, Registration, and Management System
Commission Child Pornography Sentencing Proposal
2018 Commission Sexual Offender Registry Proposal
2019 Commission Sexual Offender Registry Proposal
In 2021, the Commission successfully advocated for a legislative proposal that reduced the maximum sentence for class A misdemeanors by a single day, from 365 days to 364 days. This slight change limited some of the most severely disproportionate consequences for Connecticut’s immigrants and their families. California, Nevada, Oregon, New York and Washington have already enacted similar changes to their misdemeanor statutes to protect families and preserve the integrity of plea-bargaining in state court.
Special Act 19-17 tasked the Sentencing Commission with studying potential disparities in pretrial and sentencing outcomes related to the race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status of criminal defendants in the state of Connecticut. The Commission has partnered with Connecticut’s Information Sharing System and faculty from the University of Connecticut to develop a study that will quantify these disparities. The Commission produced an interim report on this study in January 2020 and will be issuing a final report of its findings in January 2024.
Special Act 19-17
2020 Interim Report: A Study of the Disparities in Pretrial and Sentencing Outcomes of Criminal Defendants
In 2019, the Commission received a request from Senator Cathy Osten requesting the Commission study mental illness in Connecticut’s incarcerated population. The Commission has assembled a subcommittee composed of mental healthcare professionals, who are working with the Commission to study the incidence of chronic mental illness among incarcerated individuals, the mental healthcare services available to them, their success in obtaining early release, and their utilization of the re-entry services available to them.
In 2020, the Commission published a memorandum analyzing the Department of Correction’s system for classifying the mental health treatment needs of incarcerated individuals. The Commission is finalizing a more comprehensive study analyzing diagnostic data and will begin a more comprehensive study in the months ahead.
Pretrial diversionary programs are voluntary options available to defendants charged with nonviolent offenses as an alternative to criminal case processing. In Connecticut, these programs are available for a wide variety of offenses. Upon successful completion of these programs, defendants’ criminal charges are dropped and their arrest records are erased. In 2015, Governor Malloy requested the Commission study the state’s current diversionary program offerings and consider recommended reforms. In 2020, the Commission republished a comprehensive report analyzing these programs and their utilization.