Connecticut has long held a commitment to the ideals of justice and fairness, as its citizens have demonstrated in numerous ways throughout the past year. These include actions by our elected leaders, such as the governor’s provision in recent proposed legislation to erase criminal records for low-level cannabis possession. Even more potent was the slew of demonstrations for racial justice, which were planned in such diverse places as Bridgeport, Danbury, New Haven, Durham, Old Lyme, and beyond.
Efforts to reform our state’s criminal justice system clearly matter to us, yet these conversations often neglect a crucial piece of incarceration in Connecticut: the hundreds of prisoners currently held in federal facilities, who often do not have access to the support networks managed by our Department of Corrections. An individual returning from a state prison has access to pre-release addiction services, halfway house beds managed by the state, and the Transition Services program (critical to securing necessary identification and a plan for obtaining stable housing and employment). Those released from federal prisons are denied access to these re-entry programs, often competing for limited community resources that can vary widely in availability and quality from town to town.
It should be clear that having these resources greatly improves a returned citizen’s ability to safely return to and thrive in their community, in turn driving down the chance that they will recidivate back into the prison system. Estimates by the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that more than 95% of prisoners will be released at some point. To keep these citizens from returning to the same prisons they came from requires ensuring equal access to adequate re-entry resources for all current prisoners at the state and federal level.
These resources need not be identical to Connecticut’s current slate of programs and services offered to inmates. Employment prospects and licensing requirements, healthcare, housing access and assistance, and the presence of institutions of higher education all vary across the states. Moreover, certain state re-entry prospects may be even more limited than those provided by the federal Bureau of Prisons. To improve the chances for prisoners nationwide to successfully return to society, the minimum standards of federal prison re-entry programs must be raised, with additional actions geared toward bringing other states up along the same trajectory.
The issue of justice reform hangs heavy in the national consciousness, now more than any time in recent memory. This is the moment for broad legislation to improve the quality of re-entry programs for the 200,000 inmates in federal prisons, within our state and beyond. We must demonstrate to our national representatives —particularly Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who has a seat on the Judiciary Committee and is most assuredly seeking re-election next year— that our commitment to justice and a fair chance at life on the outside extends to all our returning citizens.
Let’s make sure that when we send people home, we give them the tools they need to remain there.
Mitchell Ransden of Fairfield is a student at Dartmouth College.