As Americans, we believe that people can redeem themselves from the errors of their past. So, why do we make it so difficult for ex-offenders who have been punished for nonviolent minor crimes to rebuild their lives?
The truth is that we seldom forgive or forget when it comes to ex-offenders. Instead of paying a price for their errors once, ex-offenders just keep paying.
That’s why Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposal for reforms to Connecticut’s criminal justice system deserves widespread support in the General Assembly. There is no doubt there is room for improvement when it comes to how Connecticut deals with sentencing, its prison population, parole and probation.
We should acknowledge the need for reform and work with the executive and judicial branches to make the necessary changes. This is an issue affecting everyone in the state, because beyond the desire to return prison inmates to productive roles in our society, spending on prisons is one of the biggest pieces of the state budget and the responsibility for paying the growing price falls on all taxpayers.
The Connecticut Institute for the 21st Century (CT 21) has long advocated for some of the policies Gov. Malloy has outlined. We applaud his decision to frame the debate in terms of building a “Second Chance” society, because no one benefits from a justice system that creates a permanent class of career criminals with no hope for the future.
Gov. Malloy’s ideas are modest and reasonable. They include; reducing penalties in simple drug possession cases, eliminating minimum mandatory sentences, streamlining the pardon and parole process for non-violent offenders, and giving former offenders the chance to find a job and a home once they have served their sentence.
Many of the policies Gov. Malloy has targeted were instituted to address social issues Connecticut faced in an earlier era. Those decisions may have been right then, but our challenges have changed and our policies need to be updated.
The governor has taken steps to address the fact that the criminal justice system in Connecticut is split between two branches of government; the executive branch and the judicial branch. This is inherently inefficient. A CT 21 study conducted in 2010 shows it is costly to state taxpayers and can lead to miscommunication that makes it more difficult to provide former offenders the best opportunity to become fully functioning members of society.
CT 21 recommends the legislature consider a number of additional reforms.
Risk assessment methods should be standardized across the correction department and the parole and probation systems. Good time should be re-established for low risk offenders. The business community should be engaged in an effort to build programs that aid former inmates as they re-enter our communities.
In general, representatives from the state’s business community should be appointed to the various policy making boards and commissions with jurisdiction over criminal justice policy. Including the business sector will lead to the development of policies with a greater chance of success for individuals leaving the justice system and the community as a whole.
CT 21 applauds Gov. Malloy for opening this conversation on criminal justice reform and we urge the legislature to take his proposals and other recommendations seriously. We also encourage leaders to consider reforms from the perspective of people in the system and the taxpayers of Connecticut.
Robert Guenther is senior vice president of Webster Bank and a member of the Steering Committee of the Connecticut Institute for the 21st Century. You can read CT 21’s full report on criminal justice reform at www.ct21.org.