Brief: Following criticisms from DeStefano, Rell defends state’s policy on prison re-entry

Both Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Gov. M. Jodi Rell want to see prison reform. They just don’t see eye to eye on what exactly needs to be reformed.

In response to remarks DeStefano made at a press conference Tuesday in which he blamed the state for not doing enough to prevent crime in New Haven, Rell — who beat DeStefano in the 2006 gubernatorial race — sent an angry letter to the mayor Friday, calling his comments unproductive and expressing her deep disappointment that he was placing blame for violent city crime with the state.

DeStefano called the press conference after three shootings last Monday left one person dead; at least two of the shootings involved individuals with criminal histories, a city spokeswoman said Sunday. The state’s release of prisoners from the Connecticut penitentiary on Whalley Avenue into the city has contributed to the recent spike in crime, the mayor said.

“Our probation system is failing to take [released prisoners] off the streets,” DeStefano said at the press conference. “They have no place to work, no place to live … We cannot keep dumping people back out here.”

But Rell rejected the notion that the state is responsible.

None of the individuals concerned was being supervised by the state Department of Corrections, according to her letter. DeStefano’s assertion that the state “dumps” individuals in the city is ungrounded, Rell wrote in her letter.

“What it does do is return former prisoners to their home towns,” the letter to DeStefano read.

“You are apparently unaware that of the number of inmates incarcerated today, a total of 12 percent report a New Haven residence,” Rell’s letter continued. “You also appear to be unaware that nearly $5.5 million was spent in 2007 on residential and non-residential services for former prisoners in New Haven.”

The state, Rell said in the letter, has provided New Haven with more state-police support than any other Connecticut municipality.

But City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said Sunday that assistance is not enough, given that New Haven provides for services that benefit the entire state.

“For example, New Haven spends $1.6 million for four homeless shelters … to respond to a growing problem that is really a state problem,” Mayorga said.

Mayorga said prisoners who did not ask state officials to discharge them to New Haven are still flocking to the city because it is the only place that has the infrastructure to provide for the needs of released prisoners, who, she said, are arriving without job training or other skills necessary to reintegrate in society.

“There have been a number of instances where corrections officials have dumped them, not necessarily at their request, knowing we are the only ones with the shelters,” Mayorga added. “These are people who are being released without positive choices to come back to … these people don’t have job training, so they end back in the same activities that got them into trouble in the first place.”

Mayorga said the mayor requested a meeting with Rell to discuss the issue after receiving the letter.

Adam Liegeot, a spokesman for Rell, said the governor was not aware of the request as of Sunday evening but that it was likely being processed through another office.

Rell sent DeStefano the letter, Liegeot said, because she felt that “finger-pointing” would not would not help resolve the prison issue. He said DeStefano should come to Hartford to testify as state legislation moves forward if the mayor wants to influence the way the state handles prison reentry.

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