Prison Re-entry

October 23, 2009

Everyone agrees that Enfield and north-central Connecticut hosts its fair share of prisons and over the years I have been be actively involved in many aspects of our criminal justice system. Indeed, this past summer I was a speaker at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NSCL) Annual Meeting in Philadelphia where I spoke with four other national panelists on Cost Cutting Strategies in Corrections. I have attended similar events both in and out of the state and have consistently heard about the need for effective programs to break the cycle of crime and recidivism. I will also be serving on the newly formed Criminal Justice Policy Advisory Commission that will look specifically at criminal justice needs in Connecticut.

Our correction officers work around the clock to make our prisons safe, but once prisoners are released, we need to make sure there is proper programming and supervision to keep them on the “straight and narrow”. Inmates who leave prison either unprepared to enter the workforce or with no employment opportunities are far more likely to reoffend and end up back in prison.

There has been a national movement to keep non-violent inmates out of correctional facilities and place them instead into rehabilitation facilities. Programs like this not only reduce the rate of recidivism, they also attain important savings in state budgets. A recent New York Times Op-ed by Charles M. Blow, “Getting Smart on Crime” quoted a 2006 UCLA study that showed sending an offender to a rehabilitation center rather than prison saved $2.50 for every $1 spent. Even if one takes this with a grain of salt, creating tax-paying citizens and reducing victimization must be one of the major goals of our penal system in dealing with non-violent offenders.

Because such a large portion of our state budget (8.2%) is for Corrections, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, under the leadership of John Rathgeber, is beginning to look at ways to break the cycle of recidivism and save tax dollars. I attended the first meeting on this just last week at CBIA headquarters in Hartford.

There is a large group of people in Connecticut looking at possible reforms to our entire criminal justice system and I am certainly looking forward to being a part of positive and innovative changes. If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear from you.