Some Connecticut legislators and prisoner rights advocates are questioning whether a prison reform compromise reached by the state’s Democratic leadership will reduce prison crowding in the long-run, says the Hartford Courant.
The deal allows up to 2,000 additional inmates to be housed out of state, a measure supported by Gov. John G. Rowland and opposed by most Democrats. It would also allocate $7 million over two years toward community-based programs for ex-convicts, hire more probation officers, and change the composition of the boards of parole and pardons.
Democrats initially said they would back the out-of-state placements only if they also could change the sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine convictions, grant judges the right to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug violations, and shorten the stay of some offenders. However, those provisions were deleted from the latest proposal.
Activist Barbara Fair, a member of People Against Injustice, said she is unhappy about the turn of events. “Rowland doesn’t want reform,” she told the Courant. “Keeping huge numbers of people of color [incarcerated] is a benefit to our state, as far as he is concerned. It factors into social control and keeps the economy going.” Nora Duncan of the Connecticut Association of Nonprofits said that without significant policy changes, the state’s prison population would continue to rise and the state will have to build new prisons or send more inmates out of state. The Department of Correction’s budget is currently $513 million. Lawmakers describe it as one of the state’s largest and fastest growing expenditures.
Added funding for community-based programs probably will help boost the number of drug treatment and job training programs for ex- inmates. Hiring more probation officers – eight this year and 37 in 2004 – will help cut caseloads. The percentage of offenders imprisoned for probation violations like missing meetings is rising. Lawmakers said this results from probation officers being overburdened.