The office of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sent the following email to legislators.
SB 952, An Act Concerning a Second Chance Society
Frequently Asked Questions
As Governor’s Bill 952 has moved through the legislative process, there have been numerous questions (as well as some misconceptions) about various aspects of the bill. This document is intended to clarify both existing law, and the proposed changes in SB 952.
How does existing state law handle “school zones” and mandatory minimums?
Under current law, a conviction of “Simple Possession” of drugs within 1,500 feet of a school or day care center carries a mandatory minimum two year prison term. A conviction of “Possession with Intent to Sell” drugs within 1,500 feet of a school, day care center, or public housing carries a mandatory minimum three year prison term. Under these two current laws, the schools zones described above cover virtually every single neighborhood in our cities (see maps attached).
Does SB 952 do away with school zones?
No. As amended by the Judiciary Committee, the bill maintains school zones for both “Simple Possession” and “Possession with Intent to Sell.” Schools zones for possession would be defined as the “real property” comprising the school or day care, and school zones for sale or intent to sell would remain unchanged from current law.
Does the bill remove mandatory minimums for the sale of drugs?
No. SB 952 does not make any changes to mandatory minimums for sale of drugs or intent to sell drugs. Any attempted or completed drug sale within 1,500 feet of a school, day care center, or public housing project will still carry a mandatory three year prison sentence.
Does the bill remove mandatory minimums for the possession of drugs?
Yes. Under the bill, there would be no mandatory minimums for “Simple Possession” of drugs either inside or outside of a school zone. The maximum penalty for “Simple Possession” outside of a school zone would be one year in prison, and the maximum penalty for “Simple Possession” inside of a school zone would be three years in prison.
Who determines whether someone is charged with “Simple Possession” or “Possession with Intent to Sell”?
Under existing law, police are empowered to use their discretion in deciding whether to charge “Simple Possession” or “Possession with Intent to Sell” based on circumstances at the time of arrest. State criminal law contains a long-standing principle that possession of an amount of drugs in excess of the amount required for personal use is sufficient to prove that an individual has intent to sell. SB 952 does not change current practice regarding the use of discretion by police at the time of arrest.
Why does the current law need changing at all?
In short, for two reasons: the first because of basic equity, and the second because it needlessly costs all taxpayers too much money.
A two year mandatory prison sentence for simple possession of illegal drugs in urban areas has had an extraordinarily impact on African-American and Latino communities. Almost 100 percent of the area of New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport and most other densely populated cities in the state are within a “school zone,” while the vast majority of suburban towns are not.
For example, possession of a small amount of drugs in one’s own home nearly anywhere in New Haven would be a “school zone” violation and carry a two year mandatory prison sentence. The exact same situation in most of Simsbury or Woodbridge would not.
A felony conviction also makes it next to impossible for ex-offenders to find work or even a place to live. Many drug offenders are sentenced to probation instead of prison, but all are convicted of felonies.
Taken together, these laws lead to unnecessarily high incarceration rates that cost taxpayers money. The Governor’s bill will not only save money, it will help Connecticut prevent and reduce violent crime by allowing law enforcement to focus on violent criminals and drug dealers, rather than people suffering from addiction.
If SB 952 is passed, will it mean that offenders can have large amounts of drugs across the street from a school, and not be punished?
No. As described above, police will maintain current practice when it comes to charging someone with intent to sell. A person with a car full of heroin, a room full of pot, or a truckload of cocaine would be charged with the felony of “Possession with Intent to Sell” under the current and proposed law. The bill does not change the wording or the penalty for that offense under current law.
Why should “hard drugs” such as heroin be treated the same as less dangerous drugs?
First, it’s important to keep in mind that the bill does not change existing laws for individuals charged with Intent to Sell. Someone selling heroin would face the same stiff penalties as they do under existing law.
Second, use of any given drug will vary over time in its prevalence across geographic, racial, and socioeconomic groups. Addressing these problems in a fair, comprehensive way means helping victims of all substance abuse in all our communities. After all, why should someone in Bridgeport be treated differently than someone in Westport?
How much taxpayer money can be saved by implementing these reforms?
The Governor’s proposed budget includes savings of approximately $15 million per year from these reforms. More importantly, every proposed budget this year assumes similar savings related to the
Governor’s Second Chance Society proposals. That includes not just the Governor’s budget, but also the Democrat and Republican legislative proposals. There is bipartisan agreement that these changes save money and should be included in Connecticut’s next biennial budget.
Are other states making changes like those being proposed in SB 952?
Yes. In recent years many states have eliminated mandatory sentences and/or significantly reduced penalties for simple drug possession, including: Michigan (2003), Nevada (2007), New York (2009), Rhode Island (2009), New Jersey (2010 and 2014), South Carolina (2010), Arkansas (2011), Delaware (2011), Ohio (2011), Louisiana (2012), and Missouri (2012).
In November, 2014 the voters of California approved Proposition 47, which reduced the penalty for drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. And in March 2015, Utah unanimously approved a bill reducing the penalty for possession of drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor.
This month Oklahoma and Alabama passed comprehensive criminal justice reforms very similar to Governor Malloy’s Second Chance Society proposal. In Washington D.C., members of Congress are working across party lines to do the same with federal drug sentencing laws.
The policy changes contained in SB 952 are already being implemented in states across the nation. They can work for Connecticut. Together we can give more of our citizens a second chance at becoming contributing members of our society, and we can lower crime at the same time.
Isn’t this really about offering offenders a third, fourth, or fifth chance?
No. The simple reality is that people who have gotten into trouble for non-violent crimes – regardless of how many times – frequently reach a point where they want to turn their lives around. At that point, we want to make it possible for them to earn a second chance at a life away from drugs and crime.
We all agree that offenders should be held accountable and there should be punishment. But punishments for nonviolent offenses should not last a lifetime. They should not destroy a person’s hope for redemption or a better future.
Are the reforms Connecticut has implemented in recent years actually working?
Absolutely. Crime is currently at a 48 year low, and recidivism has dropped each year since 2010. Violent crime is down 36 percent since 2011. In 2013 alone, violent crime in Connecticut dropped at double the rate of the national average.
Since 2010, Connecticut has seen the number of young inmates (ages 18-21) drop 48%. Black inmates are down 15%, Latino inmates are down 16%, and white inmates are down 5%.
Since 2009, the number of arrests have dropped by 27%. Homicides have dropped in urban centers like New Haven by 48 percent since 2011. In fact, violent crime in our three largest cities has fallen 15 percent, three times the state and national average last year alone.
The result is that our prison population is down 19% since 2008 – the lowest it’s been in 16 years – allowing us to close three prisons.
The bottom line is that the changes proposed in SB 952 are common-sense. They build upon the progress Connecticut has made in recent years reducing crime. They can help break the cycle of crime and poverty that hurts too many families and communities. And they will allow our law enforcement professionals and our courts to focus on what they should be channeling their efforts towards: preventing serious, violent crime, and pursuing and punishing violent felons.