Craig Fishbein, John Kissel, Steven Stafstrom and Gary Winfield sit in a room in Hartford's Legislative Office Building, conversing after a meeting.
(Left to right) Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford; Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield; Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport; and Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, converse after a Judiciary Committee meeting held on Jan. 25, 2023, in Hartford. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

Connecticut’s new prison oversight committee held its first meeting Thursday, marking the first step toward establishing an ombudsperson office with investigatory power over the Department of Correction.

Members of the Correction Advisory Committee introduced themselves to attendees, reviewed their responsibilities as outlined by law and were sworn in for four-year terms.

The oversight group recently came under fire after state Republicans appointed two people with close ties to the DOC — the agency that manages jails and prisons — one of whom has interacted with a Facebook account that pays homage to the Confederacy. The move effectively undermined the work of advocates to keep the committee independent of the agency.

[RELATED: New DOC oversight panel appointments alarm advocates]

The committee will soon make recommendations to the governor for people qualified to lead the ombudsperson office — which will have the power to independently conduct prison and jail visits, communicate with incarcerated people, review agency records and draft a yearly report on confinement conditions. Members agreed Thursday to jumpstart that process by creating a job posting for the role.

Daryl McGraw, a criminal justice advocate who spent a decade in and out of Connecticut’s correctional system, said he wants “to make sure that when we’re writing a job description, that they’re not things that discriminate against individuals that may not have the education level, or so on and so forth.”

“We want to make sure that this is an opportunity open for everyone,” he said, specifically highlighting people who may not have the education but have “the passion and knowledge to work within this role.”

Mandated by law, the committee must also interview “the most qualified candidates who are residents of this state.” Following the interviews, members must collectively select between three and five of the candidates, publish the candidate’s names on the committee website and conduct a public hearing that allows testimony on the candidates. The panel will then have to submit to the governor a list of its selected candidates ranked by preference.

A majority vote among the members present is required for committee action.

Jaden is CT Mirror's justice reporter. He was previously a summer reporting fellow at The Texas Tribune and interned at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. He received a bachelor's degree in electronic media from Texas State University and a master's degree in investigative journalism from the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University.