Christine Stuart photo
Susan Menefee, a graduate of the Stride program, with Rep. Mae Flexer in the background (Christine Stuart photo)

Ex-offenders, Democratic lawmakers, and advocates urged Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell to reconsider her proposed elimination of the Stride program.

The program helps ex-offenders that are also parents find employment and become productive members of society upon release.

“I’m a proven fact that this does work,” Troy Whitehead said Tuesday at a Capitol press conference. “I’ve gotten out of jail this time and secured a job in less than two months.”

He said the Stride program is one of the best things that has ever happened in his life. “I know I have options now, I have choices,” Whitehead said.

Susan Menefee, a former crack addicted, agreed.

While she was incarcerated Menefee said she was in total despair. “I lost my family, I lost my self-respect, I lost my dignity, and I was very close to losing my will to live,” she said. Then she was told by another inmate about the Stride program.

She said the Stride program gave her back her will to live and determination to re-enter society “this time as a part of its thriving nature and not as a nuisance.”

Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said it wasn’t all that long ago that the legislature convened a special session to address criminal justice issues. During the hearings leading up to that special session legislators learned that re-entry programs, like the Stride program, actually save the state money and make the state safer, he said.

“When we keep people out of jail, when the rate of the number of folks who reoffend and return to jail goes down dramatically—like it does when folks go through the Stride program—then taxpayers save money,” Williams said. “It saves money and it saves lives.”

Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, said since the Stride program’s inception 10 years ago it has helped 752 participants, who have a lower recidivism rate than those who don’t participate in the program.

Without the Stride program its estimated that 39 percent or 293 of 752 the participants would have ended up back in jail for a cost of $9.5 million to the state. Under the Stride program’s 7 percent recidivism rate, 53 of the 752 participants would return to jail for a cost of $1.73 million to the state.

The proposed elimination of the program would save the state $600,000 over the next two years.

“By cutting this program the governor has shown what we should not do with the state budget,” Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Storrs, said.

“There’s a difference between cutting programs and controlling costs in the budget,” she said. “What we should be doing is controlling costs and not randomly cutting programs that are actually making money for us and helping people.”

“We will fight to keep these programs because they make sense for the state,” Merrill said referring not only to the Stride program, but a handful of other programs Rell has proposed limiting or eliminating.

Chris Cooper, Rell’s spokesman, said Tuesday that these are not cuts she wants to make. “Gov. Rell has been trying to grapple with a $8 billion deficit,” Cooper said. “The governor believes the right way to approach this is for government to do the same things families and businesses are doing—cut back.”

In reducing the size of government, Rell’s proposed budget reduces and perhaps eliminates subsidies for some programs, but Cooper said those programs may receive funding again when the economy turns around.