Christine Stuart photo
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Correction Commissioner Scott Semple outside Hartford Correctional Center (Christine Stuart photo)

It was his fifth visit to a prison or jail since becoming governor and it was his first to Hartford Correctional Center, which houses mostly unsentenced, pre-trial inmates.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy toured the facility Thursday — the same day President Barack Obama was touring a prison in Oklahoma, and their visits to the prisons came only days after Malloy was invited to hear Obama speak in Philadelphia about criminal justice reform.

Asked if the president was following his lead or if he was following the president’s, Malloy hedged.

“I don’t know,” Malloy said. “I think that on Election Day I decided that I was going to take two issues on. One was this and the other was transportation.”

Since winning a second term, Malloy has forced his administration to rethink how to better facilitate offender re-entry into society. In doing so, it opened the Cybulski Community Reintegration Center — a recently re-dedicated 600-bed facility which specializes in preparing offenders for re-entry into society.

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 last month 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 his tour Thursday, Malloy sat down with 12 inmates, most of whom were there for drug-related crimes. The names of the inmates were not released, but Malloy spent time talking to them about his Second Chance proposal and asked for recommendations on what he might be able to do to help them further.

“What we’re trying to do is formulate strategies and programs that make it less likely that people reappear here. That’s what we’re trying to do,” Malloy told the inmates. “The easiest way to hold down the number of occupied beds is if you never come back.”

Malloy said he’s working on next steps to further this proposal.

“I think to the extent that we can keep non-violent people out of prison, it’s a good investment,” Malloy said.

He hasn’t been specific about what exactly that next step may look like.

Malloy told the inmates that it’s expensive to house them.

“We want you to stay the heck out of here,” Malloy told one inmate. “We want to give you the best shot at staying out of here. You’re pretty expensive to us right now. You’re costing me about $120 a night. Across the board, that’s the total cost.”

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman chimed in and said, “You could be at a better hotel,” which got some chuckles.

As far as how much further Malloy can go with these proposals for non-violent offenders, Malloy said he thinks “politics in many cases is what’s possible at any given moment. That may change and more things may be possible.”

This story includes pool reporting from Susan Haigh of the Associated Press.