With no new prisons since the mid-1990s, Connecticut has funneled an increasing number of inmates – mostly nonviolent – into the community to finish their sentences, says the Hartford Courant. The number of inmates in these programs – which monitor and restrict their behavior in halfway houses or in their own homes – has nearly doubled over the past 10 years, nearing levels not seen since the early 1990s. In the first seven of those years, the population of inmates locked up in prisons also increased, but for the past three years it has declined.
Community release programs, proponents say, give inmates the best chance at being successful when they are released. The horrifying slayings of a mother and two daughters in Cheshire last month – which police say were committed by two parolees who met when they lived in a halfway house – have ignited a debate about the effectiveness of the programs. “How do we want to deal with these guys?” said Rep. Michael Lawlor, co-chairman of the legislature’s judiciary committee. “Some people say let’s put them all in jail. OK, fine, but that means dramatically increasing taxes or shutting down a bunch of colleges. We can either open the prison door and push them out with a suit of new clothes and a check for $50 or do this.” While several states including Maine have moved to abolish parole, Connecticut has for the past 15 years moved in the opposite direction. Parole has spiked, with the grant rate reaching a peak of 93 percent in May. Eligible nonviolent inmates can win release into a community program as early as the halfway point of their sentences. Violent offenders face tougher standards and cannot be released until they serve 85 percent of their sentences.