Category Archives: prison overcrowding

Focus starting to shift in crim justice “reform”

Two news stories today that allow me to hope, just a little bit, that perhaps some sense is seeping into the Capitol. The first proclaims boldly that the suspect in the recent New Britain home invasion had “little rehab for sex offense”.

The ex-convict accused in this week’s fatal New Britain home invasion dropped out of a sex offender treatment program during a 10-year prison stint that involved seemingly little rehabilitation, according to prison and parole documents.

That’s actually inaccurate – he had to leave the program because he was transferred to another facility.

But Williams’ case is now raising questions about whether the state correctional system properly prepares an inmate for eventual release.

“Whenever we run into those situations that are so horrific, it raises the question if our correctional system is performing to the extent that it can,” said state Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, a member of the judiciary committee.

“I think we need to make a concerted effort to benchmark what that optimum program level should be in the Department of Correction, and then see how far away from that level we are,” Kissel said.

Very far, Senator, very far.

Yet there are some that still can’t tell front from down. DOC rep Brian Garnett’s statements remind me of the famed Iraqi minister of (dis)information:

In general, Garnett said, inmates, “can participate in as many programs as they want and refuse to participate in programs.”

“You can’t force an offender to take part in a program,” he said. “You can make them sit in the room, but if they’re not going to engage in participating in the program, all you’re doing is wasting a chair.”

“Can participate” here should be taken to mean “could participate if it weren’t for severe overcrowding and lack of room, facilities and spots in programs”.

Ooops. There’s no such thing as prison overcrowding. My bad.

State Rep. Michael Lawlor, D- East Haven, co-chairman of the judiciary committee, said the case points to the need for more rehabilitative services in prison, but also housing for sex offenders upon release from jail and prison because few want to take them.

“They did not let him out early,” Lawlor said. “Now he finishes his sentence and he’s on probation.”

“What should you do?” Lawlor said. “You should have a place you can force him to go while he’s on probation. No such place exists. That is the problem.”

And no one wants these places in their towns.

The second story is about Gov. Rell’s top secret meeting with law enforcement yesterday (from which Dem legislators – who control the legislature – were excluded). After that meeting, there were no calls for three-strikes laws, but rather a call to streamline the persistent offender statutes and more funding for GPS monitoring.

“The current persistent felony offender law is like the tax code,” said [Chief State’s Attorney Kevin] Kane, a longtime prosecutor who stood next to Rell at the afternoon press conference. “You’ve got to be a Philadelphia lawyer to understand it. … If I have a hard time reading it — the number of times I’ve read it — imagine how a judge feels when he’s reading it pretrial.”

Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, the highest-ranking senator, said “there’s no reason why we can’t work with the governor” on her request to increase funding for global positioning system, or GPS, monitoring to track convicted sex offenders with bracelets that could monitor their movements.

Williams also favors more money for re-entry programs for those released from prison and for more beds for sex offenders after their release.

“I would like to think we’re moving beyond the finger-pointing stage,” Williams, of Brooklyn, said. “My goal and hope is to move beyond the political rhetoric.”

Me too, Senator, me too…

To inject some lightheartedness into a serious discussion, here’s Amy Winehouse:

Three-strikes again: Prescience and a three-ring circus

The killing of a 62 year old woman last week turned into a political battle over three-strikes laws with a sideshow on plea bargains. Not too long after news broke that Leslie Williams, a probationer, was arrested for one murder and one attempted murder, Gov. Rell renewed her calls for a three-strikes law.

State lawmakers called her out on this, not so subtly suggesting that the was using this tragedy to push her political agenda. They also pointed out that Williams would have had only one “strike” against him and thus, there really was no reason to use this crime to reignite the three-strikes debate.

But they just couldn’t leave it at that.

The problem is not the lack of strong enough criminal penalties, but that prosecutors plea bargain down from offenses that would put offenders away for longer periods, [Judiciary Committee co-chair Mike] Lawlor said. If the suspect had been convicted of what he was originally charged with — first-degree sexual assault — he would have received a 10-year minimum sentence instead of the eight years he received on the plea bargain.

Prosecutors are part of the executive branch, which Rell heads, Lawlor said. She should have talked to Waterbury State’s Attorney John Connelly — never accused of being soft on defendants — to find out why his office agreed to the plea bargain, Lawlor said. Connelly needs to explain that, he said.

And explain it Connelly did. I don’t have to explain the reasons behind, or the importance of, plea bargaining to those of you in the field. Apparently, these basic truths are lost on our legislators, however – or maybe they’re simply ignoring reality in an attempt to win this public battle of perception in an election year. Questioning plea bargaining practices as a whole is a dangerous game to play.

The Courant, of course, has been lapping this up, publishing numerous stories every day. Maybe other news media organizations are doing the same.

Yet, while they discuss plea bargaining, whether sex offenders should have privacy in homeless shelters, whether Rell’s position on three-strikes is inconsistent with her other positions, I have seen little to no mention of the real big problem here: society’s aversion to the reintegration of sex-offenders and the numerous obstacles placed in their path.

One can argue that no matter the resources available to Williams, he would have re-offended. I have no way of arguing for or against that. We will never know. Yet, here is a man (one among thousands) who upon release lived in two homeless shelters. He was sleeping in the victim’s car prior to the incident.

The mass hysteria surrounding sex offenders in our communities in well documented. The utter lack of rehabilitation in our correctional system is well known to those in the field. We can go on increasing punishment for crime all we want, yet that only underscores our utter ignorance (or disregard) of the causes of crime. Probably the only sensible thing I’ve read in the past few days is Rell’s acknowledgment that we will never be able to stop crime (I’m not sure whether she actually believes that); yet we act as if that is a realistic goal.

If we are not willing to fund programs that rehabilitate and make it easier for the recently released to seamlessly reintegrate into society, then we are not really tackling the problem and enhancing public safety. We might as well start handing out life sentences for all crimes.

Previous, similar thoughts here.

Three-strikes, prison overcrowding back before Judiciary Committee

Not satisfied with the harsh penalties enacted by the special session of the legislature in February, we once again embark on a discussion of “true” three-strikes laws. There are four separate proposals before the Judiciary Committee to create a three-strikes and you’re out law and there are several bills dealing with prison overcrowding, inmate services and re-entry programs.

Here is a list of all the bills being considered today and here is all the submitted testimony.

What intrigues me is that there seems to be a lot of talk about funding rehabilitation and programs for first time offenders and providing re-entry services.

Prison overcrowding was also a big issue, with Commissioner Lantz being questioned for several hours. What she was still unable to give, however, was a maximum number of inmates that the correctional facilities could hold. I don’t think that’s a difficult question.  Several legislators were pressing her on that. It turns out that the maximum number of permanent beds that our system can hold is 20,095. This, as she explained, does not include adding more permanent beds and temporary beds. Why she could not estimate from there how much space is remaining and how many inmates can be fit into that remaining space is a mystery. Rather, I suspect that she did not want to. Which isn’t particularly helpful because overcrowding is a serious problem and we don’t have a max capacity number then how do we know when the facilities are overcrowded?

My views on this are well known, so I won’t repeat them.

Here is one report on today’s hearing, focusing on the Chief State’s Attorney’s opposition to the 3-strikes bill. More as it becomes available.

The hearing is actually still going on, so you can watch either on your TV (CT-N) or on the web.

Denial is not a river in Egypt

Allegations of prison overcrowding and inhumane treatment of inmates abound and yet the American Idol Governor continues to turn a blind eye. Take this latest lawsuit for example. Two inmates at Cheshire Correctional filed a lawsuit claiming that they were forced to defecate and urinate in plastic bags because of the severe overcrowding problem.

In the lawsuit, the men say they were let out of the locked day room — designed as a place to read or watch television, not sleep — once per night to use the bathroom, according to their suit. In intervening hours, they have used plastic bags to urinate or defecate, they claim, and suffer from bladder problems as a result of having to hold their wastes.

The Governor’s response was more of the same:

Brian Garnett, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, said he could not comment on pending litigation, but said the state’s prisons are “orderly, humane and safe.”

DOC Commissioner Theresa Lantz has insisted that the prison system can absorb spikes in population, a position that frustrated the correction officers’ union and certain legislators last year when she refused to put a number on the prison system’s capacity.

A few weeks ago I heard about two separate assaults on correctional officers, but couldn’t find any news coverage of it.

This is a real problem, folks. It’s about time DOC did something about it.

Re-entry: Whose problem is it?

Over the past week or so, a fight of sorts has broken out between New Haven mayor John DeStefano and Governor Rell. It started with a meeting in New Haven about prisoner re-entry, with town residents complaining that DOC “dumped” inmates into New Haven who then had nowhere to go. Then there were three murders in New Haven, prompting Mayor DeStefano emphatically called for some help.

“The probation system needs to deal with these kids,” said DeStefano in a press conference Tuesday afternoon. Two of the three shootings Monday night involved armed teenagers, violent offenders increasingly fearless of The Law, who put officers’ lives at risk.
DeStefano said the evening brought him to a boiling point of frustration with the state for dumping 25 to 30 prisoners on the city’s doorstep each week with no social services. “You cannot keep dumping people in our communities,” DeStefano charged.

The most troubling common thread, said DeStefano, was the criminal history of all parties involved. The dumping of prisoners in New Haven has already prompted the city to open a fourth homeless shelter. DeStefano railed against the state for “failing to engage” ex-offenders with case management programs, social services and “positive choices” after prison. Earlier this month, the city lobbied Hartford for $1 million for a pilot program to provide case management for people leaving prison, the mayor said. With tones of clear frustration, he said the city has been asking for one and a half years for a prison reentry system. The state needs to step up,” DeStefano said. “Do we have to, Godforbid, have an officer killed here?” He asked. “What is it going to take to solve this problem?”

Pretty strong stuff there. Yesterday, Governor Rell responded with some strong words of her own. Among them, she not-so-gently reminded DeStefano of New Haven’s cop troubles. Then she said this:

You are apparently unaware that of the number of inmates incarcerated today, a total of 12 percent report a New Haven residence. (Indeed, if I were in an ironic frame of mind, perhaps I might complain about the City of New Haven “dumping” its problems with drugs, violence, theft and other crimes on the State of Connecticut.)

You also appear to be unaware that nearly $5.5 million was spent in 2007 on residential and non-residential services for former prisoners in New Haven, or that the Office of Parole and Community Services, operated by the Department of Correction, has 23 parole officers, two substance abuse counselors and two case managers dedicated to New Haven.

That first sentence is so offensive, I don’t know where to start. So I’m not going to. Let’s take a look at the second paragraph – specifically the amount spent on re-entry.

The state spends close to $665 million on corrections a year. Isn’t that amazing? That’s not six hundred thousand…that’s 665 million. That would put corrections spending between the GDPs of Djibouti and Liberia. In the 2006 budget, out of the general fund, appropriations for corrections was $589 million. There was an appropriation for something called “community support services”, which was given $27 million. Don’t know exactly what that entails, but I’m assuming it has something to do with re-entry. Which is barely 4% of the budget.

And we wonder why cities aren’t happy and re-entry is a problem. To answer the question: It is our problem. All of us. Just as crime is and just as rehabilitation should be.

We need to spend more on getting inmates ready to re-enter society and start living amongst us again. When will we learn?

1 in 99: America’s prison population explodes (even more)

A new study released today by the Pew Center reports that 1 in 99.1 Americans is in prison. From the press release:

For the first time in history more than one in every 100 adults in America are in jail or prison—a fact that significantly impacts state budgets without delivering a clear return on public safety.  According to a new report released today by the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project, at the start of 2008, 2,319,258 adults were held in American prisons or jails, or one in every 99.1 men and women, according to the study.  During 2007, the prison population rose by more than 25,000 inmates.  In addition to detailing state and regional prison growth rates, Pew’s report, One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008, identifies how corrections spending compares to other state investments, why it has increased, and what some states are doing to limit growth in both prison populations and costs while maintaining public safety.

As prison populations expand, costs to states are on the rise.  Last year alone, states spent more than $49 billion on corrections, up from $11 billion 20 years before.   However, the national recidivism rate remains virtually unchanged, with about half of released inmates returning to jail or prison within three years.  And while violent criminals and other serious offenders account for some of the growth, many inmates are low-level offenders or people who have violated the terms of their probation or parole.

“For all the money spent on corrections today, there hasn’t been a clear and convincing return for public safety,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project.  “More and more states are beginning to rethink their reliance on prisons for lower-level offenders and finding strategies that are tough on crime without being so tough on taxpayers.”

Take a look at these numbers:

1 out of every 9 black men between the ages of 20-34 is in prison

1 out of every 54 men above the age of 18 is in prison

Over the last two years, CT’s prison population has grown by 1.1%, putting it slightly below middle of the pack.

CT’s spending on corrections is 4.4% of its total budget expenditures.

CT is also one of five states that spent more on corrections than on higher education.

So what are states doing about it? From page 22 of the report – there are three options: (1) diverting low-risk offenders from prison, (2) reducing the stay of low-risk offenders and (3) a combination of the two.

This is a fantastic report and a must-read.

H/T: SL & P

Racial breakdown of crime and conviction rates in CT

The OLR has been doing some terrific work that I have been neglecting. One example is this report dated January 18, ’08, titled essentially the same as the title of this post. Another is this report on the cost of incarceration broken down by correctional facility and the cost of a career criminal (answer: Northern CI, where it costs $100k to incarcerate one inmate for one year). All of the criminal justice reports are collected here. I’m still looking for data on racial disparities at sentencing, either in CT or elsewhere in the country.

The racial breakdown data is interesting and is reproduced after the jump.