Daily Archives: October 17, 2007

The impatient jury


Juries are mercurial, we know. Juries are like a black box, we are told. Juries usually convict on Fridays, is another belief. But juries are also comprised of people and people are impatient. People, who are on juries, have plans with their lives and jury duty presents a significant obstruction. Just take a look at this google search for “jury pressure”.

Earlier today, I was leafing through a transcript of a trial in which evidence had lasted for almost twice as long as was originally promised the jurors. Jurors had been told, during selection, that evidence would last for a few days and they would have the case “in a week, or slightly later at the most”. Now it was going on 2 and a half weeks. Jurors had plans.

They sent notes. On Thursday, right before closing arguments: “We’re worried because if our deliberation goes into next week, a lot of us are going to have problems.” and “We want to know how long this will take because we didn’t expect it to take this long and some of us have commitments.”

The judge in this particular case didn’t seem to think there was much of a problem and told them: “It will take as long as it will take. You were selected to see this through to the end. Please adjust. Thank you.”

The judge did admonish the jury that their scheduling conflicts were not to influence their decision. But is that possible? Will juror #4, who has a vacation to Bora-Bora planned for Wednesday, willingly deliberate for days and reach a legal verdict? Will juror #1, whose wife has to go back to work on Monday and has no one to watch his kids, be a thoughtful and active participant in the process?

What of the defendant? Will the defendant get a fair trial? Will the process be wholesome? Will he get shortchanged?

What can one do? Ask for a mistrial? How would you handle this situation?

Image license info here.

Rep. Lawlor asks for more resources

In light of yesterday’s prison tour, Judiciary Committee co-chair Mike Lawlor has issued a statement asking Gov. Rell to provide more resources to the DOC. He renews his disbelief over Comm’r Lantz’s assertions before the judiciary committee that they have the prison population under control.

Yesterday I toured the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield at the request of the corrections officers who work there. After seeing the institution myself and having one-on-one conversations with many officers, there is no question that the situation there and elsewhere in the Department of Corrections is nearing a crisis stage due to the recent surge in inmate population.

Two weeks ago, Commissioner Lantz appeared before the Judiciary Committee in your place and told us that her department needs no additional resources in order to safely manage the population surge. I simply cannot see how that is true.

These conditions cannot be ignored. For the protection of the public and corrections staff, you must allow the front-line professionals in corrections and parole to tell state officials what they need to safely manage the inmate population and the offenders who are or who will be released into the community in the near and long term. We, in turn, must provide them with those resources.

Meanwhile (and there’s no link to this – surprise, surprise!), there are reports that there was a violent fight at Brooklyn Correctional last night that resulted in an inmate’s head being busted open. Inmates and COs have been warning that this overcrowding is creating a very volatile situation. Let’s hope someone takes heed before it turns ugly.

Or perhaps they should just look to this 2000 report prepared by our very own Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee, which concludes:

Prison overcrowding has a cyclical pattern in Connecticut — reaching a crisis point about every 10 years. The committee report showed most of the causes of prison overcrowding occurred outside the administration and jurisdiction of the Department of Correction and these complex issues and problems cannot be addressed by a single state agency. Specifically, the program review committee identified five main causes of prison overcrowding. They are:

  • Despite the decrease in arrest and crime rates, the number of offenders in prison or jail continued to increase due to the “war on drugs”, increased funding for police, increased role of victims and victim advocacy groups in the court process, added bed capacity in the correctional system, recidivism and technical violations of probation and parole, harsher penalties for certain types of crimes, and narrowed eligibility for community release and alternative sanction options.
  • Convicted inmates were remaining incarcerated for a greater portion of their court-imposed prison sentences as a result of the shift from an indeterminate to a determinate sentencing structure, elimination of “good time”, creation of time-served standards for parole eligibility, and the enactment of several “truth in sentencing” initiatives.
  • The aggressive “tough on crime” approach supported by the legislature and adopted by the executive and judicial branches allows the criminal justice system to narrow its use of discretion and take a more conservative and less controversial approach to punishment.
  • A lack of prison beds, especially high security and pre-trial beds, forced DOC to operate at capacity.
  • Poor planning and a lack of an accurate population projection and offender needs analysis contributed to the cycle of overcrowding and hampered DOC’s efforts to adequately plan for new or expanded facilities.

In reviewing options available to manage and control growth of the inmate population, the committee found Connecticut cannot build its way out of a prison overcrowding crisis. However, prison expansion is one model to address prison overcrowding. This strategy has been Connecticut’s primary response to prison overcrowding over the past 20 years. It is the simplest but least effective and most expensive approach. Services in this model are concentrated primarily on the small percent (25 percent) of the offender population in prison.

If legislators are truly interested in the “best solution”, then they should perhaps look to the current overcrowding problems in Texas, wonderfully covered by Grits for Breakfast [latest post here].

The full press release is after the jump, if you’re interested.