HARTFORD, CT — It’s part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s legacy, but Gov.-elect Ned Lamont wants to continue the progress that’s been made on criminal justice reform.
The presentation made by the Lamont’s transition policy subcommittee Tuesday is only the second he has attended over the past two days. He said that alone should tell you something about the level of importance he’s giving to the issue.
“I learned a lot over this past year in terms of the fact that Connecticut’s been a real leader on these reform efforts,” Lamont said. “I’ve seen the difference it’s made in people’s lives. “
But how much further will he be able to go?
“It’s the right thing to do and the smart thing to do,” Lamont, who will face a two-year, nearly $4 billion budget deficit, said.
“This mass incarceration is a terrible experiment at people’s expense in this country going back a generation and we’ve learned from that,” Lamont said. “People are getting a second chance. Crime is at historic lows. It’s saving the taxpayers an awful lot of money, but it’s giving people an opportunity and a second chance.”
From making it easier for those who served their prison term to get hired and earn a living to legalizing marijuana, bail bond reform, and raising the age that someone can be treated as a youthful offender were all topics discussed in depth by the subcommittee that was co-chaired by outgoing First Lady Cathy Malloy.
Hector Glynn, a member of the subcommittee and chief operating officer of the Village for Families and Children, said the incoming governor should consider raising the age to 20. Currently, those who are 18 can apply for youthful offender status, which means their cases are handled in the juvenile system, instead of the adult court system. The group is seeking to expand those provisions to 19 and 20 year olds.
Glynn said the number of arrests of 16 and 17 year olds has dropped 56 percent since 2009 when Connecticut first raised the age from 15 to 16 and then 17. The rate of recidivism in the juvenile justice system, according to Glynn, is lower than the rates of recidivism in the adult system. He said the number of 18 to 21 year olds in the adult prison system has dropped by 60 percent.
He said research has shown that the brain is still developing in adolescence when children are prone to risky behavior and highly susceptible to peers and others.
Lamont said he didn’t know enough about the proposal to immediately say he would raise the age to 20 years old. He said he would need to study it further.
Outgoing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had pushed to raise the age to 20 and has said that studies show “the human brain does not fully develop until you are 25.” But attempts to negotiate the legislation in 2016 before an election proved difficult.
Malloy’s proposal failed to make it out of the Judiciary Committee that year.
Legalizing marijuana was another proposal the group recommended.
“The benefits of legalizing marijuana include reducing state spending on marijuana-related prosecutions, preventing people from facing barriers to jobs, licenses and housing based on criminal records relating to marijuana, raising tax revenue that can be devoted for social good, and creating jobs in the legal marijuana industry,” Sarah Russell, a member of the subcommittee and a Quinnipiac University Law professor, said.
She said any effort to legalize should be combined with efforts to promote road safety and some of the money should be used to help support addiction treatment facilities and to help prevent drug use by youth.
She said any legalization effort should also include legislation to provide for the “automatic erasure of marijuana convictions without the need for people to petition individually to the courts for relief.”
There’s still no driver impairment test available for those under the influence of marijuana, which has been a concern for policymakers.
The group believes that within the first 100 days, Lamont should be able to expand the authority and increase the autonomy of the Criminal Justice Commission and require prosecutors to collect and publicly report data about charging, plea deals, and more.
Russell said Connecticut is a relic in how charges are applied to individuals by police and then forwarded to the court. Typically, in other states, a prosecutor would seek to verify that it can pursue charges before filing them.
It also believes Lamont can introduce legislation that provides for the automatic erasure of misdemeanors and some felonies after a person has been “crime-free” for a period of time. And a bill expanding the scope of Connecticut’s anti-discrimination laws to prohibit discrimination on the basis of a criminal record.
“The Governor-elect should also support legislative efforts aimed at reducing the number of people deported as a result of criminal justice contact, giving parolees (and perhaps prisoners) the right to vote, changing the sex offender registry to a risk-based system, and legalizing marijuana,” the report states.
It’s unclear how much of this Lamont will end of embracing or how much focus he will give to the policy area.
The committee says one of the challenges Lamont will face is the “tough-on-crime attitudes of the 1980s and 1990s” that have not entirely disappeared.
“These attitudes must be countered by strong smart-on-crime leadership from the top on down. Data should guide us, and justice-involved individuals and their families can place a human face on the urgency of reform,” the report states. “Support for reform exists on both sides of the aisle and among a diverse range of people in the state. Policymakers must understand that some spending is necessary to maximize long-term savings, and justice reinvestment is required to keep crime rates low.”
The criminal justice subcommittee report released Tuesday was one of 15 reports. Five reports per day have been presented to Lamont, Lt. Gov.-elect Susan Bysiewicz, or members of Lamont’s transition team.