CT POST: New book,”The Justice Imperative — How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked the American Dream,” identifies 30 specific reform recommendations that could start the vital process of effective reform
Originally Published Mon., Oct. 13, 2014, as: Connecticut Prison Reforms Needed – Morally and Financially.
The United States has waged a war on the use of illegal drugs for the past 40 years that has not made the country safer, but instead has produced a mass incarceration of its citizens that is financially burdensome, socially destructive and cries out for effective and humane reform.
This effort, accompanied by stricter sentencing policies (e.g. , three-strikes laws and mandatory minimums) and limited use of probation and parole, has created a system of excessive cost, a revolving door of inmate release and re-arrest, and no effective rehabilitation to help them prepare to reintegrate into the community once they have served time. These individuals have been branded with a criminal record that blocks their ability to find work and become a productive, taxpaying member of the community.
Between l980 and 2000, the number of people incarcerated in the U.S. rose almost 700 percent, from 300,000 to more than 2 million, giving the U.S. the dubious distinction of being the leading country of incarcerating its citizens. Nonviolent offenders make up more than 60 percent of the current U.S. prison and jail population.
Financially, the cost of Connecticut’s prison system is the second-fastest-growing budget item after Medicare/Medicaid. From l980 to 2006, Connecticut’s prison costs grew from $48.3 million to $627.7 million, a meteoric rise of 1,300 percent. By 2013, Connecticut’s Department of Correction budget reached $645.3 million.
In Connecticut prisons and jails, the population of inmates has skyrocketed from approximately 3,645 in l980 to 16,600 as of Jan. 1, 2014, an increase of over 300 percent. State prison capacity reached 20,000 only a few years ago.
Fortunately, there are a variety of prison reforms implemented in various states that have demonstrated the ability to reduce the prison population, cut costs dramatically, and reinvest the savings into drug and mental health treatments, vocational training and post-release support for inmates to help them find jobs.
In a book recently published by the Connecticut Malta Justice Initiative, “The Justice Imperative – How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked the American Dream,” the author, Brian E. Moran, identifies 30 specific reform recommendations that could result in four desired outcomes and start the vital process of effective reform:
reduce Connecticut’s prison’s population by half within five years;
reduce Connecticut’s recidivism rate by 30 percent within five years;
close half of the state’s correctional facilities within five years, and;
reduce state spending on the prison system by half within five years, with two-thirds of the savings reinvested toward drug and mental health treatments, educational and vocational training and post-release support and supervision.
What can you do as an individual to bring about positive changes to Connecticut’s criminal justice system?
Write, telephone, email or visit your elected officials and voice your support for specific legislative proposals as outlined in this book. The midterm elections in November are a perfect time to get your congressional, state and local representative to listen.
Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper and urge them to do a story on the reforms listed in the aforementioned book.
If you are an employer or know one, reach out to them and ask that they hire an ex-offender. Having a job shortly after release from prison is the key factor of whether an ex-offender will return to prison or not.
Take the initiative. You can be a pivotal agent of change in bringing about these reforms of the state prison system so desperately needed. Demonstrate the power of one. You have more power than you think.
Robert Stokes is a writer living in Westport.