A proposal to build a community justice center for 500 male inmates in Hartford has sparked controversy over a bidder’s lobbying and whether a 24-hour locked-down facility is the best way to treat nonviolent offenders, says the Hartford Courant. The Connecticut Department of Correction has requested proposals to build a treatment and job training facility in Hartford for nonviolent offenders who are preparing for their release or who have violated probation. The only bidder the public has so far learned about – Education and Health Centers of America, a nonprofit arm of Community Corrections Corp. – recently lost a contract to open a similar treatment center for women in Niantic because of aggressive lobbying.
The company has courted Hartford residents and activists with a meeting and a tour of its facility in New Jersey. The short-term residential program would provide substance abuse education and treatment, and vocational and life-skills training. It would help break the release, relapse, return-to-prison cycle, prison officials say. Some residents, union officials, and advocates for halfway houses have reservations about having in the city a facility with the feel of a prison. “A 500-bed facility is not a community justice center. It’s more like a prison,” said Nora Duncan of the Connecticut Association of Nonprofits. “Community work happens at the community level, and it’s very difficult to do when there’s 500 inmates involved. Smaller programs spread throughout the community, like halfway houses, are more appropriate and would better assist the inmates in returning back to their actual communities.”