Scott Semple, who has turned Connecticut prisons into a nationally watched laboratory of reform, and Dora B. Schriro, the state’s top public safety official, have notified Gov. Dannel P. Malloy they will leave state service ahead of his last day in office on Jan. 9.
Semple is a 30-year Department of Correction employee who became an unlikely partner to Malloy, the state’s first Democratic governor in a generation. Semple is a Republican who came of age professionally when the primary mission of U.S. prisons was to punish.
When Correction Commissioner James E. Dzurenda departed in August 2014 for a job in New York City’s troubled jail system, Semple took over as interim chief. Semple initially was not seriously considered for the permanent job by Malloy, who was conducting a national search.
“Sometimes I find people by mistake that are the right people,” Malloy told CT Mirror nearly two years ago. “We had some good candidates, people who had led other state’s systems. I liked those people. I had to go against my initial instinct – let’s go with somebody from the outside.”
Under Semple, the Department of Correction has opened community reintegration centers to prepare inmates for release and organized an experimental unit for offenders age 25 and younger, a demographic responsible for a disproportionately high share of disciplinary and violent incidents.
“Commissioner Semple has been a true partner and trusted advisor in our efforts to reimagine justice,” Malloy said. “During his tenure as commissioner, the reforms enacted in the correctional system have been bold, courageous, and comprehensive. And as a result, Connecticut has not only emerged as a national leader in criminal justice reforms, but the people of our state are safer for it.”
The prison population is at its lowest point in 50 years.
Schriro came to Connecticut in 2014 to become the commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection. She is the first woman to oversee the State Police and other public-safety functions in Connecticut.
Her legislative confirmation was nearly derailed over questions about whether she had misled lawmakers about controversies during her previous job overseeing New York City’s troubled jail complex at Rikers Island.
After the governor began a second term in January 2015, all commissioners staying in their jobs were subject to a new confirmation hearing, giving legislators an opportunity to quiz Schriro about reports that were unavailable when she first appeared before the Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee.
Schriro, who has a law degree and a doctorate in education, is the only person to lead the correction systems of two states and two municipalities. She also worked for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“Commissioner Schriro has led the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection during a time of great change and major accomplishments,” Malloy said. “Under her expert watch, the department reduced backlogs at the State Crime Lab, instituted a Lethality Risk Assessment when responding to domestic violence calls, secured funding for body-worn cameras for the State Police, and equipped all Troopers with naloxone.”