REPORT ON BILLS FAVORABLY REPORTED BY COMMITTEE

COMMITTEE:

Judiciary Committee

File No.:

Bill No.:

HB-5211

PH Date:

2/18/2004

Action/Date:

JFS Change of Reference 3/15/2004

Reference Change:

Appropriations

TITLE OF BILL:

AN ACT CONCERNING PRISON OVERCROWDING.

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Rep. Dyson

Rep. Lawlor

 

REASONS FOR BILL:

During the last 10 years the Department of Correction (DOC) has operated at or over capacity even though the rates of crime and arrest have been dropping.

The JFS language: deleted the "for administrative purposes only" language from section 1 regarding the placement of the Board of Pardons and Paroles within DOC, retained existing statutory restrictions to diversions from mandatory minimums, implemented an automatic parole reassessment process; deleted references to "Long Lane School for Girls and the Connecticut Juvenile Training School from section 25. The JFS language also deleted section 24 that increased the amount of "crack" cocaine required charge a defendant with the crime of the manufacturing and sale of illegal drugs. The provision would have made the amount of powder cocaine and "crack" cocaine required for the charge equal.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Commissioner Theresa C. Lantz, DOC, testified that serious crime in Connecticut between December, 1993 and December 2002 has been substantially reduced and that CT's incarceration rate is 15% below the national average. Initiatives aimed at addressing the issues of crowding in the system should have release options that balance the good intentions of truth in sentencing with policies that are aligned to initiatives that promote public safety, offender accountability and offender responsibility. The JFS language incorporates her concerns about DOC's relationship with the Board of Pardons and Parole in regard to section 1 "for administrative purposes only". She supports the provision in section 11 for authorization to place 2000 additional inmates in out of state facilities but was concerned that the reporting requirements to the General Assembly would encumber the DOC's ability to seek timely closure to their population demands. The Commissioner also supports the language in section 14 to include the Commissioner of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Chairperson of the Board of Parole in the Prison and Jail Overcrowding Commission. Support was given to section 28 that requires the DOC to issue a request for proposal for a Community Justice Center of not less than 500 beds in Hartford, additionally she would like to see this expanded to other large urban areas to facilitate the reconnection of the offender to their geographic domain.

Gerard A. Smyth, Chief Public Defender, supports the bill in principle as considering both public safety and the needs of offenders as they reintegrate into society. The Office has serious concerns regarding the merger of the Boards of Pardons and Parole which would do nothing to reduce prison and jail overcrowding but has implications in regard to death penalty commutation hearings. The reduction in members assigned to parole hearings will likely result in an increased workload and delay the release of some inmates who are eligible for parole. The Office urges the retention of the Board of Pardons as a separate entity and not decrease the membership on the Board of Parole.

Vanessa Burns, Executive Director, African-American Affairs Commission, testified in support of the bill saying that between 1985 and 2000 Connecticut's prison population tripled from 5,375 to 17,305 inmates, and DOC spent $1 billion dollars to add 10,000 prison beds. Two-thirds were classified as non-violent, eighty percent (80%) had substance abuse problems and at least twelve percent (12%) were mentally ill. African-Americans constitute a disproportionate forty-three percent (43%) of the prison population. Connecticut is one of just thirteen (13) states where there are more African-American males under the jurisdiction of the prison system than are enrolled in colleges. Research suggests that the crack versus powder cocaine disparity is an issue that has led to a disproportionate number of African-Americans being incarcerated. This racial disparity has emerged as a result of harsher sentences given to convictions involving crack cocaine, more commonly found in communities of color. The commission supports the review of mandatory minimum sentences aimed at creating fairness and equity, improving mental health services for those involved in the criminal justice system, hiring of adequate probationary staff, and an employment assistance program for inmates.

James Papillo, JD, Victim Advocate, testified that his foremost concern is for the welfare and safety of crime victims in our state, and urges that an assessment of an inmates complete history and propensity for violence, not just the most recent convictions. It was also requested that the Victim Advocate or designee be included on the Commission on Prison and Jail Overcrowding to represent victims.

The Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) submitted testimony on the importance of making sure that services for female prisoners are provided in a gender and culturally appropriate manner. Women convicted of drug possession were more likely than men to be sentenced to prison (33% of women and 24% of men) and was not attributable to other factors other than gender and must be addressed. The PCSW strongly supports alternatives-to-incarceration programs relating to drug abuse and mental health issues for non-violent offenders.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Dr. James Austin, The Institute on Crime, Justice and Corrections, George Washington University testified to these main points on major crime and correctional trends in CT:

1. CT's crime rate has been steadily declining since 1990-similar to the reduction reported for the nation and other states.

2. One major reason for the decline in the crime rate has been an associated decline in the "at-risk" population (young men 18 to 30).

3. CT has a substantially lower crime rate and prison incarceration rates as compared to other states.

4. Among the Northeastern states, CT has the highest incarceration rate. (384 vs. 305 per 100,000).

5. CT's overall disparity in incarceration rates between whites, blacks and Hispanics is among the highest in the U.S.

6. The incarceration rate for whites is among the lowest in the nation and there is a great difference in the incarceration rates in CT of whites (190), blacks (2,427) and Hispanics (1,434) per 100,000 population.

7. For those sentenced to prison for a year or more for crimes of violence, CT has the nation's longest stay and the highest proportion of prison sentences served.

8. The size of the parole population is one of the lowest in the U.S.

9. In total in 2002 5,600 or 18% of all DOC admissions were technical violations of some form of community supervision.

10. Prisoners who are paroled and released via parole are incarcerated an average of nine months beyond their parole eligibility date, which is incredibly long compared to most states.

The recent decline in the prison population over the last year is related to recent recommendations and, based on current trends, there is no reason that the prison population should increase in the near future under current policies.

The quality of data recorded by the DOC and its capacity to analyze the data is extremely limited as compared to most state prison systems. These limitations make it impossible to issue reliable forecasts of future prison populations, evaluate the impact of past initiatives, and test the impact of proposed legislation and policies. The cost of upgrading the state's research and planning capabilities are minimal as compared to how much money would be saved by improving the effectiveness of current correctional agency operations.

Dr. Eric Candora provided data on city and neighborhood incarceration rates and highlighted the fact that an overwhelming portion of the state's incarceration costs are coming from very few cities and not all neighborhoods in those cities. He characterized this as a kind of migration policy where we have hundreds of folks leaving and hundreds of folks returning to those particular neighborhoods every year. Three neighborhoods in New Haven where one out of seven black males 18 to 49 are being admitted to prison every year and account for $40 to $50 million a year in DOC spending. You have to ask how that money is being spent to improve the well-being of those particular neighborhoods.

Peter M. Gioia, Economist, Connecticut Business and Industry Association said that CT can no longer afford the status quo regarding spending on incarceration. Corrections is straining the state budget, the more effective and efficient that government is the better our business climate will be.

Teresa Younger, Executive Director, Connecticut Civil Liberties Union The problems of prison overcrowding and its effect on inmates and their families cannot be swept under the rug any longer. The bill provides a comprehensive and flexible approach to the problem. The fiscal cost of implementing the bill will go a long way towards preventing future expenses related to incarceration.

Diane Randall from the Partnership for Strong Communities testified on the need for supportive housing, defined as permanent affordable housing with services for tenants, for former inmates.

Professor John Pottinger, Charisa Smith and Michelle Garcia of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School testified in partial support of the bill. The bill contains a number of very constructive provisions: chiefly, mandating new regulations about due process in parole hearings and mandating a pardons process for certain inmates. The bill could be improved by: increasing the discretion of judges and the parole board, promoting incentives for inmates to work productively during incarceration, equalizing the "crack"/powder cocaine disparity in criminal charges, revising the medical parole guidelines to provide more appropriate care outside the system, addressing the issue of Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) detainees who should be in federal custody and reform of the juvenile justice system so that fewer juveniles would be treated as adults.

The Justice Education Center, Inc. submitted testimony advocating that the state restore a full range of alternatives-to-incarceration programs. CT's prison population has risen again due to the state cutting back on alternatives-to-incarceration programs. Savings that were created when these programs were introduced have been lost and CT finds itself with an expanded prison population and burgeoning Corrections budget.

Angela Shenk, Staff Attorney, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, The bill will greatly help ex-offenders transition back into their communities and ease some of the barriers to their reentry into employment. It also provides for needed reforms to the pardons process. Legal Services advocates that the bill include a provision for Certificates of Employability to be issued only if the court finds such relief to be consistent with the public interest and that the person is sufficiently rehabilitated.

Susan McKnight, League of Women Voters of Connecticut strongly supports comprehensive, community-based mental health systems for children and adults. They support new community mental health residential program for offenders with serious mental illness leaving correctional facilities. This is a badly needed first step to keep people with serious mental illness from recycling through the prison system.

Steve Lanza, Executive Director, Family Reentry, Inc. proposed a pilot non-residential reentry project for Bridgeport be a part of the bill. For 19 years Family Reentry has provided a range of behavioral health services to people in the criminal justice system and their families and have been conducting their own strategic planning incorporating the advice of experts from many different fields. They believe that a comprehensive community program that is effectively coordinated with the criminal justice system has the potential to help a substantial percentage of offenders, increase public safety, and save the state millions of dollars.

Maureen Price, Executive Director, Community Partners in Action on behalf of the many community justice provider members of the Connecticut Association of Nonprofits (CAN) for many years they have been advocating for expanded treatment programs and alternatives to incarceration; equally as important is restructuring sentencing laws that maximize incarceration without impacting rates of recidivism. Recommendations include: More drug treatment options, drug treatment has been shown to be 10 times more effective than incarceration; reduce time for non-violent offenders; eliminate the sentencing disparity between "crack" and powder cocaine; change the Board of Parole to make them more effective; and provide pardons to those who deserve to leave the stigma of the past behind. Some of the savings from these recommendations should be invested in expanding and developing programs that address, in a comprehensive manner, the issues of poverty, behavioral health, education, family dysfunction and the major predictors of criminality and recidivism.

Jan VanTassel, Executive Director, Connecticut Legal Rights Project supports increased services for persons with psychiatric disabilities. All national studies on the incarceration of persons with psychiatric disabilities have found that these individuals are both more likely to be incarcerated than other people with comparable charges, and are more likely to be incarcerated longer and are less likely to be paroled. None of the alternative incarceration residential addiction programs accommodate persons with psychiatric disabilities because of their needs, this results in the unnecessary incarceration of this vulnerable population. The recommendations that you are considering represent an important opportunity to establish correctional policies which protect the public safety while incorporating humane, rational and fiscally responsible approaches to incarceration.

Raymond Wing provided a hypothetical that illustrated how the current criminal justice system in CT does not provide appropriate services for those who commit criminal acts but need greater and more appropriate psychiatric help than can be provided in the prison system. The current system spends more money on imprisonment and non-treatment than an appropriate treatment program would. He recommends changes to give a person an incentive to receive treatment which would not only help the individual, but save money and better protect the community.

Robert Rooks, Executive Director, A Better Way Foundation supports equalizing CT's sentencing guidelines for "crack" and powder cocaine. Despite relatively equal use rates of crack among white and black drug users, the most current figures provided indicate that of those persons sentenced to prison on crack related offenses were: 84.2% African-American, 9% Latino, and 5.7% white. The current penalty structure was based on beliefs about the association of crack offenses with certain harmful conduct-particularly violence-that are no longer accurate.

Michael G. Sivak, a felon, convicted of assault in the first degree in an act of self-defense, is facing a mandatory five-year prison term. He asks that revisions to the state's mandatory minimum laws include all classes of crimes, sometimes mitigating circumstances matter and sometimes true justice can only be served if departure from mandatory minimums is allowed.

James Retarides told of how Mike Sivak (see above) received a five year mandated sentence for defending himself against a much larger bully who not only started the disagreement, but initiated contact as well. Mandatory minimums are unjust, and have more innocent people in jail than ever before.

Charles Gray-Wolf supports pardons for those who have shown that they can be productive members of society again, so that the one blemish on their otherwise clean record does not haunt them and prevent them from becoming productive members of society.

Al Hamon, a recovered addict supports increased treatment options and programs for addicts, to help them lead better lives and avoid the "revolving door" of prison and addiction.

Theresa Ireland, a convicted felon spoke of how she would have been back in prison if it weren't for the halfway houses and other programs that have helped her over time. We have to get money back into CT's non-profits so they can do their jobs.

Eileen Hamon is a recovering addict and former Niantic inmate who obtained a degree in substance abuse counseling. State budget cuts have resulted in cuts in services in prisons for addicts and other areas such as anger management. There are no more college classes or anything to teach an inmate the basics on how to live outside of prison. She feels that the state needs to start rehabilitating and stop warehousing. Transitional services need to be improved to allow people to come out before their max date and adjust. She also stated that she found great prejudice in the employment field for anyone with a criminal record.

Joey Petrello, in recovery for drugs and alcohol since 1992 after 22 years of active addiction and a former prisoner testified that money spent on prisons would be better spent on treatment.

Mike LaVallee, a convicted felon due to drug and alcohol addiction, said that those who work hard and move ahead should be allowed a second chance. No matter how long he is clean his record will still be in the way for him, unless he can get a pardon. There needs to be some change in the pardon system for people like him who have done the right thing.

Anne Saucier, an alcoholic in remission, advocates reform of the pardon system so that people in sustained recovery can live as productive citizens. Children deserve parents with decent jobs, confidence, and good housing. Please reform the pardon process and give sober, responsible people a chance for hope for the future.

Carol Fabian, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) of Connecticut, told of how her son was failed by the lack of mental health services in prison and is now facing going back to jail instead of a long term program where he could get help, guidance, education, job training, life skills, mental health and drug counseling.

Mary Voiland, NAMI of CT, told of her son's serious bi-polar illness and who has been in trouble with the police due to his illness. She has successfully kept him out of prison. Common sense tells her that we need to invest more in housing, community treatment services, vocational training and expand the jail diversion program so that persons who have serious mental illness will receive a sentence of treatment and not end up in our overcrowded prisons.

Barbara Fair, People Against Injustice, provided information on the emotional impact of parent-child separation due to incarceration. Children of incarcerated parents have feelings of abandonment, grief, fear, anger, anxiety, shame and fear about the conditions under which their parents live. The incarceration of a parent is also traumatic because of the shame that surrounds it, as well as lack of trust with the loss of their caregiver. Parents return to children who have grown up in their absence. She is opposed to sending CT prisoners out of state, away from their families, and the spending of half a billion dollars to lock away minorities, the sick, the poor, the downtrodden. They will no longer stand helplessly by and watch the continued destruction of African and Latino families in this state.

Greg, in recovery for 8 years, is unemployed and has had trouble finding a job because of his criminal record. The pardon process needs to be looked at desperately. He would like to keep hope.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

None Expressed.

 

Hank Pawlowski

March 23, 2004

 

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