With the ink not yet dry on a new law to reduce incarceration rates among nonviolent offenders, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration said Tuesday that the number of arrests and jail admissions continues to decline at record levels.
Michael P. Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning with the Office of Policy and Management, said in a release that criminal arrests in Connecticut during the first half of the year were down 9.3 percent compared to the same time period in 2014. The number of people held in jail pending trial was down 9.2 percent.
The total prison population as of July 1 was 3.2 percent lower than it was at the same time in 2014. Earlier this year, Lawlor reported the prison population hadn’t been this low since 1999.
The number of prisoners being held because they could not post bail dropped 8.3 percent from the previous year. Between 2009 and 2014, that population had already fallen by 18.8 percent.
Malloy, who was in Philadelphia Tuesday for President Barack Obama’s speech on criminal justice reform at the NAACP national convention, said the statistics prove his efforts to overhaul the prison and parole system in the state are working.
“As we see significant short-term gains, we’re also making Connecticut a Second Chance Society to deliver long-term improvements by ending the cycle of crime and helping nonviolent offenders get back on their feet,” he said.
The declining prison population has led to several facility closures over the past few years. Malloy has said he would not be surprised to see more prisons close their doors as a result of ongoing reforms.
Several elements of Malloy’s Second Chance initiative were signed into law this year, including centerpiece legislation that treats drug possession as a misdemeanor and eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug possession. Separate bills authorized more than $3 million to expand housing and job training opportunities for former inmates and to reduce suspensions, expulsions, and arrests in public schools.
At the ceremonial signing of the key Second Chance bill last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers lauded its passage. Members of the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus said it was an crucial step in addressing racial disparities in the prison system. Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano said it’s important to acknowledge drug use as a health problem, not necessarily a criminal one.
Urban legislators and lawmakers from more rural communities have long disagreed over a law requiring a mandatory punishment for drug possession in a “school zone.” The current policy is an issue in urban communities where school zones effectively cover entire cities. As a result, anyone who’s convicted of a drug charge in those cities faces a stiffer penalty. Urban lawmakers have tried to change the law for years, calling it unfair, but many suburban and rural legislators opposed the change.
OPM statistics for 2014 show a prison population that was 42 percent black, 31 percent Hispanic, and 26 percent white. According to the most recent U.S. Census data, approximately 11 percent of people in the state are black, 15 percent are Hispanic, and 82 percent are white.
At the bill signing, Malloy characterized his strategy as being “tough on crime by being smart on crime.” He said nonviolent offenders should be encouraged to be productive members of society through appropriate treatment and supervision while those sentenced for violent crimes should be locked away longer than they are now.
“I was a prosecutor. I tried 23 felony cases in 18 months. I had convictions in 22 of those cases. Four of them were homicides. I‘m pretty tough on crime,” he told reporters. “But what I’m saying to our society here in Connecticut is we’ve got to find the right balance because permanently punishing people is like permanently punishing ourselves when we’re doing it for the wrong reasons.”
The Second Chance Society also is focused on keeping former inmates from returning to prison. It’s a commitment underscored by a 2012 OPM study of almost 15,000 men released from prison in 2005 that revealed high rates of recidivism in the state. By 2010, 79 percent had been arrested again, 69 percent were convicted of a new crime, and 50 percent were returned to prison with a new sentence.
The study identified drug charges as the cause of incarceration for 46 percent of the inmates who left prison in 2005.
In April, Malloy dedicated one building of Enfield’s Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution as the Cybulski Community Reintegration Center. According to the New Haven Register, inmates there are able to finish out their sentences with the help of a regimented program that includes job training, addiction counseling and parenting classes. Specialized staff members also work with inmates to plan for their housing and medical needs.
While Malloy declined to give reporters details about the next phase of his prison reform initiative, he said he is working with academics and experts in the criminal justice field to craft a proposal for the 2016 legislative session.
He also hinted at one possible focus when he cited a recent visit to a maximum security prison in Berlin, Germany during which he learned about a culinary job training program with a 100 percent placement rate.
“When you look at what happens, for instance in halfway houses in our state and most states, relatively few of those folks are actually gainfully employed and working,” Malloy said. “I think we’ve got to rebalance our approach. I think this was an important first step, but I also believe there are additional steps.”