Scott K. Wilderman, President and CEO of Career Resources, Inc., State Rep. Chris Rosario and State Sen. Tony Hwang share this commentary focused on justice reform.
In Connecticut we are moving away from mass incarceration.
Due in part to an expansion of mental health and substance abuse treatment options and other programs that diverted people from the criminal justice system, the number of people in state prisons and jails has fallen from 19,894 incarcerated people in February 2008 (peak population) to 10,061 in December 2022.
Late last month Gov. Ned Lamont announced the closing of Willard Correctional Institution in Enfield. The closing of this facility in April will save taxpayers roughly $6.5 million in annual operating costs.
As advocates and leaders for second chances, we strongly urge the state to redirect some of this funding into a Justice Reinvestment Fund (JRF). The goal with the JRF would be to use criminal justice data to design and implement innovative, data-driven and comprehensive approaches to reduce crime, cut recidivism rates, and direct resources to more cost-effective safety strategies.
In a couple of weeks new criminal justice data will be released in a report entitled The State of Reentry, issued by Career Resources, Inc. The findings in this report spotlight the most urgent needs for adults returning to our communities over the next six months. Some of the highlights are as follows:
— Employment: 94% of individuals who were incarcerated with sentences ending within six months had less than five years of employment history or vocational training. Three percent (3%) of this population had never been employed.
— Education: 62% of individuals who were incarcerated with sentences ending within six months did not have a high school diploma.
— Substance Abuse: 94% of individuals who incarcerated with sentences ending within six months reported as having a substance use problem.
— Mental Health: 73% of individuals who were incarcerated with sentences ending within six months reported having a history of or having an active mental health disorder.
— Race and ethnicity: Black/African Americans and Hispanic/Latino(a) Americans are still disproportionately represented within Connecticut’s prison and jails relative to their population size in Connecticut. Thirty-five (35%) of people currently incarcerated with sentences ending within six months and 41% under community supervision identified as Black/African American versus 12.7% in the state population. Twenty-eight percent (28%) of people currently incarcerated with sentences ending within six months and under community supervision identified as Hispanic/Latino(a) versus 17.7% in the state population.
When one combines Connecticut’s stark recidivism numbers with data in this report demonstrating the high level of treatment and programming needs among people in CTDOC custody, the picture is clear why we need comprehensive evidence-based approaches for those returning to our communities. A timely investment from the state into a Justice Reinvestment Fund will bring essential resources to too-often ignored members of our society, allowing them to achieve personal stability and bring pride to their families and communities.
There is no doubt that Connecticut has emerged as a pioneer in prison reform efforts. Elected officials, community leaders, and advocates collectively share a vision to reduce the incarceration rate while making communities safer and families stronger. With the establishment of a Justice Reinvestment Fund we are just one step closer to making this dream a reality.