HARTFORD, CT — Life On Parole, a documentary that takes an inside look at Connecticut’s efforts to change the parole system and reduce the number of people returning to prison, will air on CPTV at 10 p.m. tonight.
In collaboration with The New York Times, PBS’s Frontline follows former prisoners in Hartford as they navigate their first year on parole.
The program investigates the role of parole officers in whether a parolee successfully integrates into society and how they must learn to navigate an evolving system that requires a complex mix of social skills beyond just enforcement of the rules.
The documentary follows the release of four prisoners — Jessica Porter, Vaughn Gresham, Rob Sullivan, and Erroll Brantley — as they acclimate back into the world outside prison.
It specifically follows the interaction between the four former inmates and the parole officers charged with keeping them from returning behind bars.
The program shows meetings, some tense, between those paroled and their parole officers as the law enforcement officials lay out the rules the four must abide by to stay out of prison.
Mike Lawlor, the state’s under secretary for criminal justice policy and planning, also figures prominently in the program as he explains the changing dynamic between parolees and their parole officers.
Lawlor, in the documentary, describes it as “figuring out what we do to move in the right direction” to get those paroled on the right track.
Decreasing the state’s prison population has been one of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s priorities. The effort is part of Malloy’s focus on 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.
Connecticut’s prison population has been steadily declining over the past few years and the state has either completely or partially mothballed several prisons as that population has declined.
Lawlor posts a weekly update of the state’s prison population on his Facebook page. On July 8 he reported the total at 14,264 — a 23-year low. The number represents a drop of 252 since June 1 and 1,000 since a year ago. The state’s prison population peaked at 19,894 in February 2008 and has dropped 28 percent in nine years.
Lawlor said parole releases are down 42 percent since 2009.
The chart shows the prison population decreasing at an accelerating pace each year. Asked whether he thought the state would “plateau” and see the prison population even out, Lawlor said, “not if arrests and jail admissions keep dropping.”
Lawlor said year-to-date total arrests in 2017 are down 4.5 percent compared to 2016, adding that jail admissions are down about the same amount. Further, he said newly sentenced admissions were down 20 percent in June compared to June 2016.
“And, of course, that’s related to the dropping numbers of reported crime,” Lawlor said.