Our criminal justice system is in need of reform. Such system costs the taxpayer too much, fails at rehabilitation, exacts a life-long toll on offenders and does not yield corresponding societal benefits. Of late, the political left and right have found common ground in advocating for change. This book is the product of a bipartisan coalition here in Connecticut of businesspeople, correctional professionals, legislators, judges, law enforcement professionals, lawyers, ministers and academics. We believe there are systemic solutions capable of saving money, making us safer, and providing offenders with a pathway toward reformation and reintegration.
The purpose of this book is three-fold: (1) to provide information about the causes and extent of the problems overwhelming the process of criminal justice in Connecticut; (2) to explain why reform is long overdue and in our collective best interest; and (3) to suggest reforms that are supported by empirical evidence from other states.
The long-term political shift from being tough on crime in the 1970s and 1980s to today’s call for reform is illustrated by the unusual circumstance whereby the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal each recently ran editorials in favor of similar reform measures.
The current bi-partisan environment raises the prospect for reform. Such reform would not have been imaginable a decade ago. Having an electorate knowledgeable about the core issues may facilitate the political process. Motivation is found in both the budget-breaking financial costs and the human and community costs inherent in the current system.
This book does not seek to assign fault for the current shortcomings. The criminal justice system we have today reflects what society has demanded of our elected officials since the 1970s. Our current situation has its ideological roots in catch phrases such as “lock the door and throw away the key,” “if you did the crime, you have to do the time,” and “they got what they deserve.” The Cheshire murders in 2007 reinforced such sentiments.
As a society, we have become hardened toward felons. Historically, there has been little political or social support for the imprisoned or their families. It is generally considered political suicide to be perceived as soft on crime. This political paralysis has impeded efforts to be “smart on crime”. With the support of responsible informed citizens, elected officials will be more inclined to devote their attention to reforming the financially burdensome and socially destructive aspects of the present system.
It is the collective view of the Editorial Board of this book that being smart on crime can enhance public safety by redirecting resources toward rehabilitation and treatment, reducing recidivism, lowering overall operating costs, providing fairer justice and lessening the damage to our communities.
In advocating for reform, we recognize that victims’ rights must not be minimized. Many offenders have committed heinous crimes. Such crimes warrant severe punishment, including the removal of offenders’ status as free members of society and the curtailment of their ability to inflict further harm on the general public. We accept that the personal losses suffered by crime victims and their families are devastating and irreparable. Victims are entitled to the closure afforded through the judicial process.
At the same time, we note that over ninety-five percent of offenders are released back to our communities, often unsupervised and ill-equipped to succeed. Once branded a felon, an offender is subjected to the modern day equivalent of a scarlet letter. That stigma and other obstacles block the path toward lawful behavior. The individual suffers, the community suffers, recidivism increases and the taxpayer foots the bill.
It is in the public’s interest to have released offenders rehabilitated and motivated to be law-abiding, taxpaying members of their families and communities. By recognizing the human dignity of all offenders and enabling them to realize redemption and restore their relationships within the community, all of society is ennobled.
Our analysis examines not only the current criminal justice system and incarceration practices in Connecticut, but also the best practices in other states and countries. Such practices and empirical evidence strongly indicate that we can right size our prison population, bring down costs, lower recidivism and increase public safety, while affording ex-offenders greater opportunities to turn their lives around and reintegrate into mainstream society.
It is our fervent hope that by educating the public about the serious issues confronting the criminal justice system, hearts and minds will be changed, thereby enhancing the potential for more positive outcomes and needed reform.
On behalf of the Editorial Board
Malta Justice Initiative