Gov. Dannel P. Malloy named Correction Commissioner Leo C. Arnone, originally an appointee of former Gov. M. Jodi Rell, to continue to oversee Connecticut’s prison system as the administration undertakes efforts to further reduce the inmate population.

Arnone, 59, who was originally appointed Aug. 1, 2010 following the retirement of then-Commissioner Theresa Lantz of Manchester, is a 22-year veteran of the department. He also worked for 12 years in the Judicial Branch and for three years at the Department of Children and Families.

“Leo is well-liked by staff at the department and well-respected by members of his peer community,” Malloy said.

The head of the union representing nearly 2,000 correction officers and other prison workers praised the governor’s selection Friday. “Our local is pleased with the appointment of Leo Arnone,” said Jon Pepe, president of Local 391 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “He’s been open, honest and direct with us so far. We look forward to working with him.”

“Our members are looking forward to working with the new commissioner,” said Matt O’Connor, spokesman for the union representing about 850 supervisors and teachers within the correction system.

O’Connor added that while Lantz and her predecessors under former Gov. John G. Rowland’s administration were resistant to working with the union, members specifically hope to collaborate with Arnone to improve safety for all staff within the prisons and to reduce recidivism among inmates. “It’s all about prevention,” O’Connor said.

Arnone “believes, as I do, that public safety comes first, but we also need to spend less and find ways to reduce recidivism in our inmate population,” Malloy added. “His ties to community-based providers and his special insight into early intervention and juvenile justice programs are also of particular interest to me as we find ways to reform our criminal justice system.”

Connecticut’s prison population for January fell to its lowest point since 2001 with 17,746 inmates.

And Malloy’s criminal justice policy advisor, former state Rep. Michael P. Lawlor of East Haven, said he believes Connecticut can make significant further reductions in the next few years with new strategies for handling persons accused but not yet convicted of crimes.

“I’m looking forward to working with Governor Malloy, a former prosecutor and someone who deeply believes in the reformation of our current system,” Arnone said. “With my career spanning two branches and as many departments, I have a broad understanding of the ways in which we can better address the needs of our criminal justice system.”

During a mid-January interview, Lawlor suggested several options to further reduce numbers of unsentenced inmates awaiting trial in prison. One is to end abuses of the bail bond system that in turn have sparked a “hyper-inflation” in the setting of bail bond amounts.

Another option is to focus more resources on the jail re-interview process, which re-examines the backgrounds of those who are incarcerated awaiting trial and, in some cases, identifies nonviolent individuals in need of substance abuse treatment or mental health services–problems that can be addressed more cost-effectively in community-based settings.

Connecticut’s prison population, which stood as low as 6,000 in the mid-1980s, rose steadily over the past two decades, due in part to tougher sentencing policies adopted in 1993 and 1994.

The prison population peaked shortly after the Cheshire home invasion due in large part to a suspension of one of the primary procedures for issuing paroles. The population reached 19,894 in February 2008.

Connecticut last opened a new prison in 1995 with the Northern Correctional Institute in Somers, a 365-bed facility. About five units totaling 500 beds were added to the McDougall-Walker prison in Suffield in 2004.

Rell ordered the closure of a small facility, the 200-bed Webster Correctional Institution in Cheshire, in December 2009. The move saved an estimated $3.4 million per year.

Arnone, a Somers resident, began his correction career in 1974 as a correction officer. After rising to the rank of captain, Arnone served as deputy warden and then warden from 1988 through 1993 at the Hartford Correctional Center, a high security, 1,000 bed, pre-trial facility. From 1993 to 1995, Arnone was a regional director within the department, overseeing six correctional facilities in the Enfield-Somers area, with 4,000 inmates 1,800 employees, 1,700 acres of property, and over 100 buildings.

From 1995 to 2007, Arnone worked in the Judicial Branch, first as the superintendent of the Hartford Juvenile Detention Center, and later as the deputy director of operations for juvenile detention services. From 2007 through his appointment as correction commissioner in July 2010, Arnone was the chief of the Bureau of Juvenile Services within Department of Children and Families.

Besides the stabilization and reduction of the inmate population, the commissioner also touted two other accomplishments of his first seven months in office: the start of an upgrade to a 30-year-old computerized, inmate data tracking system, and a comprehensive overhaul of the department’s technological equipment.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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