The number of people admitted to Connecticut prisons and jails declined sharply between 2009 and 2018, and the reason likely isn’t what you think.
“People are concerned that perhaps the reason we’ve seen the prison population fall is because we just released a lot of people from prison,” Kyle Baudoin of the Criminal Justice Policy Planning Division recently told members of the Criminal Justice Policy Advisory Committee. “Well, the information that I have today suggests otherwise.”
According to the division’s findings, the number of people entering prison has fallen much quicker than the number of those who are leaving, Baudoin said. “So, what we’re seeing is fewer and fewer people coming in the front door, not a large opening of the back door.”
Index crimes fell by almost 27% between 2008 and 2017, and arrests were down 44% between 2009 and 2018. During that same time frame, prison admissions dropped by 33%.
…We’re trending in the right direction and things are moving and progressing uniformly across our criminal justice system.”
The decline of reported crimes and arrests are key indicators, said Marc Pelka, Gov. Ned Lamont’s undersecretary of criminal justice policy and planning, because “to have significant reductions at those two volumes means fewer people are touching the justice system at all.”
Those trends held for young people, as well. The number of 18-year-olds arrested in 2008 was 6,815; in 2017, it was 2,753. Baudoin said this large reduction in the number of young people entering the criminal justice system “bodes well,” because it means fewer people could be in the system in the coming decade, when those juveniles grow older.
The cohort of 18- 21-year olds incarcerated in Connecticut prisons and jails fell substantially between 2009 and 2019. Baudoin suggested the decline could be because Connecticut raised to 18 the age at which young people are tried in adult court. This age group’s representation in the criminal justice system declined, Baudoin hypothesized, because many teens who might have wound up incarcerated were diverted from the system when they were minors.
The cohort of incarcerated people over the age of 40 stayed relatively flat between 2009 and 2019. “This speaks to the fact that we have an aging prison population, a graying prison population, and that comes with it a whole host of other issues,” Baudoin said. The cost of health care is one of those concerns.
“These significant reductions in volumes of people entering the criminal justice system, and in the criminal justice system, is laudable, and enables us to realize the approach we’re taking in CT is working,” Pelka said.
Diverting people from the criminal justice system, Pelka said, frees up resources and money for “high-risk, high-need people, who are a small portion of the population but [are] contributing to a disproportionate amount of group and gun violence, recidivism rates and cost in our system.”
An outlier in Baudoin’s presentation was the number of people on special parole, a type of release imposed by a judge during sentencing that defendants must complete once they’re out of prison. Special parole releases increased 118% between 2009 and 2018. Half of the Department of Correction’s community population are special parolees.
“Those people are using more and more resources of the parole and community services division,” Baudoin said, indicating that more than 40% of DOC halfway house beds are currently occupied by special parolees. “The number of beds is fixed, and the number of special parolees continues to grow.”
Baudoin showed a graph that presented the number of special parolees, by month, from January 2009 to the present, and projections through April 2020. CJPPD’s predictions held true until about April of this year, after which the projection was much higher than the actual number of special parolees.
“That’s a promising start,” Baudoin said. “And that’s really indicative of bringing the attention to this forum, educating people in the Judicial Branch about use of this as a sentencing option and also passing the statute in 2018, Senate Bill 18, which allowed for early discharge of special parolees who are currently on supervision who demonstrated success under supervision.”
The number of adults on probation fell by 32% between 2005 and 2019. Baudoin said this dispels the myth that masses of people are given probation instead of prison sentences, underscoring that Connecticut’s criminal justice system has shrunk as a whole, and that individual systems have not shrunk at the expense of the growth of others.
“This is validity that the system as a whole has contracted by a very uniform rate since it hit its historical peak,” Baudoin said. “That shows we’re trending in the right direction and things are moving and progressing uniformly across our criminal justice system.”
Pelka said the new data gives lawmakers the tools to focus on Connecticut’s neediest residents, who still wind up in the criminal justice system. He also stressed that the justice system cannot do it alone. Legislators must recognize the that criminal justice reform is interconnected with other social systems and processes; its interests must go hand-in-hand with those of other stakeholders, like addiction services and shelters for people experiencing homelessness.
“I’m hoping that by prioritizing the high-risk, high-need populations, we’ll underscore opportunities for partnerships with different systems, from housing to workforce development to substance use and mental health, so that each system can benefit from coordinated interventions,” said Pelka.