The Role of Technology
Hartford Community Court
By contrast, at the Community Court, there is an emphasis on constructive sanc- tioning. When defendants enter a plea, Court-imposed conditions are designed both to “pay back” the community and to provide links to help for those defendants who need it.21 The typical sanction at the Community Court has both a community serv- ice and human services component.22
Community service sanctions and human service mandates are determined in dif- ferent ways. Community service sanctions are proportional to the severity of the offense, and to a lesser degree, criminal history. Accordingly, mandates are likely to be more onerous for those cases involving misdemeanor, as opposed to local ordi- nance, charges.23 The Judge typically assigns one day of community service, but can assign an unlimited number of days.
By contrast, human service mandates are issued according to defendants’ needs. Unlike community service time, the Judge does not specify how much the defendant must participate in human services. Rather, he defers that decision to the human services staff, who have broad discretion to mandate whatever services they deem appropriate. Thus, even if a defendant comes through the court on a very minor charge (for example, public drinking), the human service staff could still compel him to go into extended substance abuse treatment. In fact, in the first month of Court operations, several defendants were placed in treatment for several months.
This open-ended policy might raise issues of proportionality. Given the low-level instant charges, do human service staff have too much discretion in assigning lengthy mandates? It also complicates the compliance issue: Will the prospect of a $35 fine compel an addict to remain in long-term treatment? What ultimately hap- pens if they fail to comply?
The City of Hartford’s technology staff have developed an integrated Management Information System (MIS). The MIS enables Court personnel — including Bail Commission, alternative sanctions, and human services staff, as well as the Judge — to share information about cases and individuals.
The MIS enhances the Court’s non-traditional operations. It makes assessment information entered by Bail Commission and Human Services staff readily available to the Judge. This information allows him to make more informed sanctioning deci- sions, based on the defendant’s social service needs. Moreover, it promotes account- ability by providing a way for human service and alternative sanction staff to monitor whether defendants have fulfilled their alternative sanction mandates.
Court will bolster accountability and result in greater compliance because of its enhanced monitoring capabilities.
21 Staff reported that, during the Community Court's brief period of operation, there already have been many cases where social service was assigned without community service.
22 Only in rare cases are fines imposed.
23 In all likelihood, those defendants who continue their cases in the hopes of receiving a more lenient outcome at the Community Court at a future date will be disappointed. The Judge stated that, with each additional appearance, defendants will have community service time added to their mandates.