Christine Stuart photo
Joe Oatlui, Richard King, Scott Corna, and Ernest Burgeson speak with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Correction Commissioner Scott Semple, and Cybulski Warden John Tarascio about their experiences (Christine Stuart photo)

ENFIELD — Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Friday told four inmates in the new DUI unit at Willard-Cybulski Correctional that they could save Connecticut a lot of money by making sure they don’t return to prison.

“This is not about a perfect outcome. This is about a better outcome,” Malloy said.

The effort is part of Malloy’s focus on a criminal justice reform in his second term agenda. Last year, Malloy signed legislation that treats drug possession as a misdemeanor and eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug possession. That law also sped up parole hearings for low-risk inmates and eased the process by which ex-offenders earn a full pardon.

Aside from Malloy’s legislative efforts, Correction Commissioner Scott Semple has been creating programs to focus on ending recidivism through rehabilitation in specific areas.

On Friday, he announced the opening of the DUI unit — the third Reintegration Center to open at Cybulski and the fourth overall in the state. The first targeted the general population and opened in April 2015. That was followed by the opening of a Veterans Unit in November. A Reintegration Center for women at the York Correctional Institution in Niantic opened in February. And coming in the fall, they will open another Reintegration Center at the Mason Youth Institute in Cheshire.

The new DUI unit is operating under a therapeutic community model, starting each day with a group meeting, followed by participation in focused substance abuse programming throughout the day. It currently houses 118 inmates. There are another 70 offenders confined to their homes who participate in activities in the community as part of their rehabilitation. That includes speaking to high school students during prom season to tell them about the dangers of drunken driving.

Semple said the average drunken driver will drive drunk 80 times before the first arrest and about one-third of all drivers arrested or convicted of drunken driving are repeat offenders.

One of the inmates, Joe Oatlui, told Malloy that he stayed sober for eight years before drinking again. He said he didn’t recognize the signs and had stopped going to meetings.

He said it would have saved money if he had taken advantage of programs offered by his union.

“I’m here, but I’ve learned a lot,” Oatlui said.

Semple said the goal of the unit is to transition people back into the community with the life skills they need so that they never return to prison.

“The establishment of Reintegration Centers like the DUI unit provides the concentration of services and programs necessary to support successful re-entry and impact recidivism,” Semple said. “This is a goal we all share.”

Malloy and Semple visited a prison in Germany last summer to see how the Berlin facility is managing to pay less and getting better results than American prisons. Part of their journey was documented by a 60 Minutes and will air this Sunday.

On Friday at the dedication ceremony, Malloy said he’s trying to create a system that lowers recidivism and which other states can follow.

“There is a reality that the people who are most likely to come to prison have been here in the past,” Malloy said. “We have not done enough, historically, to fight recidivism.”

He said he knows it sounds strange but he wants to make sure offenders get the skills they need during their incarceration so that they are less likely to re-offend. For drunken drivers that means recognizing the signs of an “impending relapse.”

Malloy said it’s appropriate for society to enact some level of punishment for those who break the law and commit a crime, but it’s important for the state to do everything in it’s power to make sure they don’t re-offend.