Factors Impacting Prison Overcrowding (2000)

Despite a steady, 10-year decrease in crime and arrest rates, Connecticut has struggled with the persistent growth of the inmate population and a high rate of recidivism among convicted offenders under supervision. The primary solution to prior prison overcrowding problems had been to add prison beds by building new facilities or expanding others. During the 1990s, almost 10,000 new beds costing well over $1 billion were added, but less than five years after the comprehensive construction project was completed the Department of Correction (DOC) was again operating at capacity. The department has transferred 500 inmates to out-of-state prisons and has begun a 600-bed prison expansion project to relieve the current overcrowding crisis.

In 2000, the program review committee conducted a study to identify the main factors causing the prison overcrowding problem and the options available to the legislative and executive and judicial branches to control the growth of the inmate population. Specifically, the study examined the state's criminal sentencing laws and significant sentencing reforms enacted since the 1970s, the capacity of the correction system and community-based supervision and service network, and the offender population and sentencing trends.

Prison overcrowding has a cyclical pattern in Connecticut -- reaching a crisis point about every 10 years. The committee report showed most of the causes of prison overcrowding occurred outside the administration and jurisdiction of the Department of Correction and these complex issues and problems cannot be addressed by a single state agency. Specifically, the program review committee identified five main causes of prison overcrowding. They are:

Despite the decrease in arrest and crime rates, the number of offenders in prison or jail continued to increase due to the "war on drugs", increased funding for police, increased role of victims and victim advocacy groups in the court process, added bed capacity in the correctional system, recidivism and technical violations of probation and parole, harsher penalties for certain types of crimes, and narrowed eligibility for community release and alternative sanction options.

Convicted inmates were remaining incarcerated for a greater portion of their court-imposed prison sentences as a result of the shift from an indeterminate to a determinate sentencing structure, elimination of "good time", creation of time-served standards for parole eligibility, and the enactment of several "truth in sentencing" initiatives.

The aggressive "tough on crime" approach supported by the legislature and adopted by the executive and judicial branches allows the criminal justice system to narrow its use of discretion and take a more conservative and less controversial approach to punishment.

A lack of prison beds, especially high security and pre-trial beds, forced DOC to operate at capacity.

Poor planning and a lack of an accurate population projection and offender needs analysis contributed to the cycle of overcrowding and hampered DOC's efforts to adequately plan for new or expanded facilities.

In reviewing options available to manage and control growth of the inmate population, the committee found Connecticut cannot build its way out of a prison overcrowding crisis. However, prison expansion is one model to address prison overcrowding. This strategy has been Connecticut's primary response to prison overcrowding over the past 20 years. It is the simplest but least effective and most expensive approach. Services in this model are concentrated primarily on the small percent (25 percent) of the offender population in prison.

The second option requires establishing and funding a system of graduated sanctions to provide punishment, supervision, treatment, rehabilitation, victim restitution, and public safety. This model is referred to as community corrections. It is a multi-agency approach and also includes a system of prisons and jails. Services in this model are concentrated primarily on the majority (75 percent) of offenders supervised in the community who pose the most immediate risk to public safety.

In response to these findings, the committee adopted a series of recommendations to implement the community corrections strategy. The recommendations were aimed at redefining and reinvesting in a comprehensive community corrections model to control the growth of the inmate population, reduce recidivism, and ensure the public's safety. Legislation containing the committee's proposals was introduced but did not pass during the 2001 regular session of the General Assembly. The table below sets forth the specific recommendations.

The only related legislation (P.A. 01-99) that did pass during the 2001 session allows judges to impose less than the statutory mandatory minimum sentence for certain non-violent drug crimes. This issue was included in the program review committee's report.

     

Summary of Compliance with Committee Recommendations

Recommendation

Status

Comment

Establish in statute a state policy for community corrections.

None

Bill did not pass.

Create a sentencing task force to evaluate the felony sentencing process.

None

Bill did not pass.

Require the Offices of Fiscal Analysis and Legislative Research to conduct a prison impact assessment for any legislation that may modify or impact the rate of prosecution, rate or length of incarceration, computation of time served, or affect the number of offenders incarcerated, paroled, or placed on probation.

None

Bill did not pass.

Require the Office of Policy and Management's Justice Planning Division to comply with its statutory mandate and conduct a systemwide study of recidivism.

None

Bill did not pass.

Require the Prison and Jail Overcrowding Commission to meet regularly, add certain members of the criminal justice system to the commission, and established a permanent Community Corrections Subcommittee to the commission.

None

Bill did not pass.

Reinvest sufficient resources in the community corrections strategy including additional probation and parole officers and an increase in available treatment, training, and rehabilitation services.

None

Bill did not pass.

Require the judicial branch to develop a sentence worksheet as part of the pre-sentence investigation report and to establish sentencing teams at all criminal court locations to maximize the use of graduated and alternative sanctions.

None

Bill did not pass.

Redefine in statute a "split" sentence and special parole.

None

Bill did not pass.

Make technical amendments to certain parole laws.

None

Bill did not pass.

Establish a statutory reassessment parole hearing process for eligible inmates who served 75 percent of their sentence but were not discretionarily paroled.

None

Bill did not pass.

Eliminate the 15-member, part-time parole board and replace it with a three-member, full-time professional board and an executive director.

None

Bill did not pass.

Require DOC conduct a feasibility study on establishing a revocation center for parole and probation violators.

None

Bill did not pass.

Shift responsibility for providing mental health and substance abuse services to offenders from criminal justice agencies to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

None

Bill did not pass.

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