Stan Simpson has this fine piece in the Courant today, urging legislators to learn from the State’s past and resist the urge to simply expand prisons as a solution to reforming the criminal justice system.
The last time the state went on a massive prison expansion escapade, it spent $1 billion to build 12 new prisons – the last in 1996. The overcrowding problem got worse, not better. Inmates were sent to out-of-state facilities.
Prison expansion was costly and largely ineffective. The state Department of Correction’s budget ballooned, from $92.4 million in 1985, with 5,379 inmates, to $605 million this year. In recent years, Connecticut got smarter and embraced prison-diversion alternatives for nonviolent offenders.
This recent enlightenment is what led to Connecticut being reported favorably in a private report released by the Pew Charitable Trusts back in February. Connecticut was one of two states, the other being Delaware, that was projected to have no increase in its prison population. That, obviously, no longer holds true. The policies that the State put in place and followed, however, are still valid.
“When an event as tragic as the Petits’ occurs, obviously, the first response is to identify why it happened and to do everything to prevent it from happening again,” said Ryan King, policy analyst for The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based prison reform advocacy organization. “Unfortunately, that response has traditionally been longer sentences of some kind, restricting parole release, those sorts of things. And the fact of the matter is there’s been very little empirical evidence that any of them have had the advertised effect.”
“The conversation that can’t be lost in this dynamic is that at the end of the day, creating and maintaining comprehensive re-entry services for individuals is a better way of increasing safer communities,” said Maureen Price-Boreland, a member of the governor’s task force and executive director of Community Partners in Action, which runs re-entry programs for former offenders.
Stan suggests that legislators should not overreact, but instead invest in job training, drug counseling and housing assistance programs, reserving prison beds for the “true incorrigibles”.
Now, will legislators listen?
Meanwhile, there was a community meeting in Hartford last night, where ex-offenders and their families confronted
Gov. Rell Commissioner Lantz about the negative effects of the parole ban.
The Clean Slate Committee also made demands of Lantz. They asked her to guarantee that by Nov. 30, every inmate released from incarceration would be given a state-issued identification document and that the state review of all parolees and inmates eligible for community release programs would be completed by Nov. 21. They also asked that the governor establish a commission – to include former inmates, their families, advocates, public officials and two members of Clean Slate – that would work on parole and community re-entry.
Lantz agreed to establish such a commission, but said she could not meet the deadlines on the other two demands.