Connecticut legislators seeking to stanch the flow of taxpayer dollars into the state's prison system are urging the governor and the legislature to adopt a proposal calling for less prison time for some offenders and spending the savings on community-based drug treatment and job-training programs for offenders.
The proposal could save the state as much as $50 million annually, roughly 10% of the state's $513 million annual prison budget. It is being pushed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Rep. William Dyson (D-New Haven), head of the powerful appropriations committee. In an interview last week with the Hartford Courant, Dyson was careful to pitch the proposal as tough on violent criminals. "We're not interested in releasing people from prison who have been engaged in horrendous acts," Dyson said. "We don't want people going away with the notion that we are just going to open our doors."
But under the proposal, "Building Bridges: From Conviction to Employment," nonviolent offenders, including drug offenders, will face shorter sentences and other, non-carceral sanctions, such as halfway houses and drug treatment programs. Among other things, the proposal aims to reduce the number of parole and probation violators entering prison in Connecticut. Last year, more than 5,000 of 31,000 new prison admissions were for people who committed "technical" parole or probation violations, such as not attending a drug treatment meeting or failing to notify parole officers of a job or address change.
Dyson and other legislators told the Courant they hoped to get the measure included in any new state budget proposal. Dyson also said he had been in discussions with Gov. John Rowland (R) about the issue. Rowland is calling for more Connecticut inmates to be imprisoned out of state, a move traditionally opposed by Democrats, but Dyson suggested a compromise could be reached if the "Building Bridges" proposal is included.
Visit http://www.cga.state.ct.us/hdo/094/report-2-28.pdf to read the "Building Bridges" proposal online.