Gov. Dannel P. Malloy named James E. Dzurenda as Correction Department commissioner Tuesday, choosing the career employee over two out-of-state finalists and making it clear that Dzurenda impressed during his six months as interim boss.

Dzurenda, 48, of Stratford, takes over at a time when parole and correction professionals are trying to formalize risk-assessment procedures, part of a national movement to lower the risk of recidivism.

Malloy said he wants the new commissioner to work with the Office of Policy and Management, the Parole Board and the Judicial Branch to expand the department’s research and analysis capabilities.

“At the end of the day, the criminal justice system exists to prevent crime,” Malloy said.

Dzurenda described his 26-year career as the byproduct of a job he took as a jail guard in Bridgeport, intending to earn enough money to pay for college.

“I never even thought I’d continue my career in corrections,” Dzurenda said. He described seeing more and more opportunities as he advanced, working in five correctional institutions and eventually becoming the deputy commissioner for operations.

He was named interim commissioner at the retirement of Leo Arnone.

“I plan on being around for a long time,” Dzurenda said.

He oversees a system that housed 17,151 inmates as of the monthly census Nov. 1. With no system of county or city jails, the Department of Correction houses sentenced inmates, who comprise about 75 percent of the prison population, and those awaiting trial.

The population has dropped from 19,551 five years ago.

A 2012 study that tracked 14,398 male offenders for five years after their release in 2005 found a re-arrest rate of 79 percent, with 50 percent returned to prison.

“Public safety is my No. 1 priority,” Dzurenda said, adding that one of the most effective ways to safeguard the public is to reduce recidivism and give offenders the support they need to succeed after release. “If they succeed, that means there is going to be less victimization in the community.”

The job pays $160,000 annually.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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