In concert with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Second Chance proposal, Correction Department Commissioner Scott Semple announced last week that the department would be closing a portion of the Bridgeport Correctional Center before the end of the month.

The Correction Department will close the 204-bed Fairmont Building and save taxpayers more than $2.1 million per fiscal year.

The prison population has been declining. The total incarceration level is 16,064, which is down more than 360 from the same time last year and below an all-time high of 19,894. Pre-trial admissions were down 9.3 percent for the first six months of 2015 when compared to the first six months of 2014, according to the department.

“With the passage of the Second Chance Society bill, I am confident that this downward trend in the prison population will continue,” Semple said. “The agency will continue to work collaboratively with key stakeholders to help support successful reintegration of offenders back into their communities. This is not a soft on crime approach, this is a smart approach to encourage successful re-entry.”

The Bridgeport Correctional Center is a Level 4 high-security facility which houses 950 pre-trial and sentenced offenders.

This isn’t the first closing of a prison during the Malloy administration. The department closed Gates Correctional Institution in Niantic in June 2011 to save $12.3 million per year, and Bergin Correctional Institution in Storrs in August 2011 for a savings of $12 million. The year before Malloy took office former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell closed Webster Correctional Institution in Cheshire in January 2010.

Christine Stuart file photo
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signing the Second Chance bill at a ceremony last week (Christine Stuart file photo)

As part of Malloy’s Second Chance proposal the Correction Department has been rethinking how to better facilitate offender re-entry into society. In doing so, it opened the Cybulski Community Reintegration Center — a recently rededicated 600-bed facility which specializes in preparing offenders for re-entry.

The state spends more than $700 million of its annual budget on the prison system, which employs about 6,300.

The Second Chance bill Malloy signed into law two weeks ago eliminates mandatory minimum prison sentences that accompany some nonviolent drug possession crimes and make those crimes misdemeanors rather than felonies. The new law also speeds up parole hearings for low-risk inmates and eases the process by which ex-offenders can earn a full pardon.

During a ceremonial bill signing last week Malloy spoke about how rehabilitating prisoners will become a larger part of the mission of Connecticut’s penal system.

“For a long time in this country, with respect to non-violent offenders, having them end up with criminal records being unemployable, unhousable and uneducated, we were literally cutting off our nose despite our face,” Malloy said. “I think now we’re in a position to have a set of tools that will help us deal with that population in a better way.”

The bill ended up passing during the special session with bipartisan support.