Officials say prison population declines have slowed
The shrinking of the state’s prison population is hitting a slowdown after several years of dramatic declines, while the number of people in pre-trial lockup now form a larger part of the system, according to a new report from the state Office of Policy and Management.
The report, which was presented to the state’s Criminal Justice Policy Advisory Commission (CJPAC) during its meeting Thursday, also found that the prison population will likely decline by about 310 inmates over the coming year, a rate of about 3.2 percent, compared to the roughly 420 prisoners it lost during the same period in the past year.
There has been a 32 percent reduction in the prison population since 2008, when the system held nearly 20,000 inmates. In January, Connecticut’s total prison population was 13,228, which included 9,272 sentenced inmates and 3,401 pre-trial prisoners, among other groups.
Thursday’s CJPAC meeting was the first chaired by Marc Pelka, who has succeeded former Rep. Michael P. Lawlor as the state’s undersecretary for criminal justice.
Until taking the new post, Pelka advised state governments across the U.S. on criminal justice reforms for the Council of State Governments. He was also involved in the organization’s efforts to enact policies aimed at reducing states’ correction costs and lowering recidivism.
Pelka said Connecticut’s work surrounding criminal justice is special because of those who work on the front lines of the system and those who run the agencies.
“And I thought to myself, where could I help support the efforts that are taking place every day across our state to increase public safety, lower victimization, lower recidivism, improve cost effectiveness of … our criminal justice system, and I saw CJPAC as being central to that,” Pelka said.
Ivan Kuzyk, the report’s author and director of OPM’s CT Statistical Analysis Center, said the years of dramatic declines in the prison population are largely over.
“And a lot of the contraction that we had we could do with a large knife, with a machete, and now we’re going to have to find pieces of the system that we can cut out with a scalpel—it’s going to be a lot more difficult to maintain a decline in the prison system,” Kuzyk said.
Over the last decade, that shrinking population was largely attributable to reductions in the sentenced prison population, according to the report, and those declines have increased in recent years. Between July 2016 and July 2018, sentenced inmates accounted for 98.9 percent of the drop in the overall prison population.
The drop in sentenced inmates came amid reforms that started in 2008 and overall declines in reported crimes and arrests after a prior extended period of mass incarceration and mandatory sentencing, Kuzyk said.
The report also found the pre-trial population continues to increase each month, with 250 more of those inmates now than this time last year. Kuzyk said the state will have to start examining ways to mitigate the size of the pre-trial population.
“If you’re drawing all of your contraction in the system from the sentenced population and that piece of the pie is shrinking, it follows reasonably that you’re going to have less contraction just because the bodies aren’t there in … order to continue to see them go,” Kuzyk said.
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