Hugh McQuaid Photo
James Dzurenda (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

After a nationwide search for a new correction commissioner, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made an internal appointment Tuesday and announced that James Dzurenda, the interim head of the state’s prison system, would stay in the position.

If approved by the legislature, Dzurenda will become the permanent replacement for Leo Arnone, the previous commissioner who retired in April. Like Arnone, Dzurenda began his time in the department as a correction officer. He joined in 1987 and was assigned to the Bridgeport Correctional Center.

At a Tuesday press conference outside the governor’s office, Dzurenda said when he first joined the DOC, he was working on his college degree and did not anticipate making a career out of correction work.

“Obviously it’s a great opportunity I was given” he said. “. . . As you keep getting more experiences in the department you start seeing opportunities that are open more and more for you to succeed. You start advancing and you get to that point where you can’t turn around and come back.”

As DOC Commissioner, Dzurenda will make $160,000 a year. Following Arnone’s departure, Michael P. Lawlor, Malloy’s criminal justice policy advisor, headed up a nationwide search for a new prison administrator. In a job posting from July, the state offered as much as $239,000 a year as an incentive to attract qualified candidates.

Malloy said he interviewed two “extremely attractive candidates” for the job from out of state, but chose to stick with Dzurenda because he had “the right experience, the right skill set for Connecticut.”

The governor said Dzurenda will be expected to work on upgrading DOC’s data tracking systems, which he said have indicated that inmate recidivism has been declining. An October report from Lawlor’s office found the department’s data tracking tools outdated, leaving the system “too complex to manage effectively.”

Malloy said the executive branch was working to bring its analytics in line with those being used by the Judicial Branch. He said the upgrade will help the department better evaluate recidivism.

“We know what works and what group of people it works for, so taking that with proper data and proper evaluation and it applying it earlier may have significant additional success. So I’m excited,” he said.

Dzurenda was first promoted to warden in 2002, and has served as the chief administrator of both Webster and Garner Correctional Institutions. After being appointed a district administrator with oversight over half the state’s prisons, Dzurenda was made deputy commissioner in 2010.