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The State Budget and Structural Reform, Part 2

Aug 03, 2015
Editor’s Note: Throughout this year’s debate on the FY 2016 - FY 2017 biennial budget, the MetroHartford Alliance advocated for structural reforms that would establish a fiscal foundation supporting private sector job retention and growth as well as capital investment. In communications to policymakers and public forums on the budget, the Alliance continually stressed the need to adopt lasting, real reforms to bring sustainability to our state’s budget, such as those developed by the Connecticut Institute for the 21st Century. The Institute was formed in 1997 when public and private leaders in Connecticut came together to exchange ideas about increasing the state’s economic growth and competitiveness. The group focuses on informing policymakers on key issues that hold the most potential for the state’s future. 

We are encouraged that the budget implementer includes language that directs the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management to review the reports of the Institute and submit recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature’s Appropriations and Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committees.

In the interest of providing more details on the structural reforms for which the Alliance has advocated – both those of the Institute and others – we are sharing regular updates with our Investors.

Reforming Connecticut’s Correction, Parole and Probation Systems

In the State of Connecticut’s correction, probation and parole systems there are two governing entities: the Department of Correction (DOC) and the Judicial Branch. DOC is responsible for prisons and parole, while the Judicial Branch includes courts and probation.  The cost of these systems is high and growing fast. 

Governor Malloy has raised the profile of important criminal justice reforms through the introduction of his Second Chance Society legislation.  Signed into law in July 2015, the initiative’s specific actions include:

• Reducing the penalty for possession of drugs from a felony (with a seven-year maximum sentence, two years mandatory if within 1,500 feet of a school or daycare center) to a misdemeanor (with a maximum of one year in jail, no mandatory jail sentence)
• Establishing an expedited parole process for nonviolent, no-victim offenses
• Establishing an expedited pardons process for ex-offenders in nonviolent, no-victim cases after a period of time following the end of their full sentence

While steps have been taken to improve Connecticut’s correction, parole and probation systems, much more can still be done. Developing and implementing a long-term strategy in which the two halves of the system work together is critical. Connecticut must approach its prison system comprehensively to achieve the right balance among factors such as the cost of the system, imposing appropriate justice for criminal activity, and ensuring public safety.

What specific steps should be taken to reform Connecticut’s correction, parole and probation systems? 
 
Establish mechanisms to guide and measure the system’s performance.  The lack of an agency with authority to comprehensively manage Connecticut’s correction, parole and probation systems causes disconnects between components within the systems.  Enhancing data capabilities could help to improve strategic planning and performance measurement. 

Engage Connecticut’s business community in the process of reform and re-entry. While Connecticut’s business community has limited involvement in the current systems, private sector employment is a critical component of any re-entry strategy. Business representation on the Criminal Justice Policy Advisory Commission (CJPAC), and in other system activities would improve strategy, management, and measurement while facilitating discussion about job opportunities for ex-offenders. 

Renegotiate union contracts. Union contracts provide little flexibility to allow for cost reduction in the criminal justice system. Unusual work schedules and other work rules exacerbate cost reduction efforts. Union negotiations should benchmark other states’ approaches, factoring in components such as compensation, schedules, overtime and sick time.

Decrease the incarcerated population in Connecticut, without compromising public safety: 

  - Standardize the currently disparate risk assessment instruments used by the Court Support Services Division, DOC and parole system to ensure better and more consistent decision-making across the systems. 

  - Establish a faith based pilot initiative within the incarcerated male population to help lower recidivism rates. 

  - Institute the use of meritorious good-time for certain offenders. A “meritorious good-time” early release program provides DOC with an incentive-based tool to motivate inmates and, when used appropriately with certain offenders, it can reduce the prison population. 

  - Provide sufficient funding for re-entry programs while measuring results to ensure a focus on programs that yield the best return in reducing recidivism. 

  - Extend the early release furlough program for appropriate inmates. This program allows inmates to re-establish their ties to the community and look for suitable employment while under supervision. If implemented correctly, this program should reduce the prison population and save money. 

  - Continue to build and enhance partnerships with community based service providers providing critical support to offenders in the early hours after their release. Better information sharing among community partners and the systems would improve outcomes for ex-offenders.

To read the full report on reforming Connecticut's correction, parole and probation systems and other reports from the Connecticut Institute for the 21st Century, visit the Public Policy Resources section of the MetroHartford Alliance website.

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