A new bill drafted in Hartford last week may bolster New Haven’s crusade for prison reform.
Committee Bill No. 5178 would modify the process by which prisons receive funding from the state and federal governments. If passed, the legislation would require census workers to consider prison inmates as part of the population count of the town where they were arrested, not the town where their correctional facility is located. If this bill passes, New Haven will receive larger grants from the state and federal governments.
According to several city officials, the bill would benefit the Elm City in the long run. The drafting of the bill follows a battle between the city and the state over prison reentry reform.
State Rep. William Dyson, the New Haven legislator who is sponsoring the bill, said he hopes the potential extra funds will be diverted to strengthening the prison-re-entry program, which Mayor John DeStefano has said did not provide sufficient support for inmates.
The bill, which has been passed by a selection committee of the General Assembly, is being considered by the Joint Committee on Appropriations, which comprises members from both the state Senate and House, according to the General Assembly Web site.
Because the number of New Haven residents who are incarcerated is far larger than the number of inmates New Haven can hold in its Whalley Avenue jail, the inmates are dispersed throughout all of the state’s prisons, Dyson said. But when town populations are counted for the census, he said, inmates are counted in the town where the correctional facility is located, not New Haven.
“It’s an inequity of an enormous scale” for places like New Haven, Dyson said. “[Large cities] are being deprived of … benefits.”
If the bill passes, New Haven could receive a large boost in federal funding. According to a Feb. 29 letter from Gov. M. Jodi Rell to DeStefano, 12 percent of all Connecticut residents who are incarcerated say they are from New Haven. Dyson said he hopes local legislators will use the new funds New Haven would receive to better support the prisoners who are released into the city — whether they are from New Haven or not.
On Monday night, City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga referred comment to City Hall community services administrator Kica Matos, who said she is unsure how the city might use the additional money.
But the bill still has its problems, Dyson said. As it currently stands, not all residents would be represented in the town’s population. If a resident of New Haven were arrested in another town, the resident would be counted in the population of the other town, Dyson said.
State Rep. Deborah Heinrich, a vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee, stressed that the bill still needs to be discussed in a public hearing before it is sent to the General Assembly for a vote. For the bill to be passed into law, the entire process must be completed before May 7, the end of the legislative session for the General Assembly this year, she said.
Heinrich declined to comment on the specifics of the bill, referring comment to State Rep. Toni Walker, a House Appropriations Committee member who is “involved with prison issues,” Heinrich said. Walker, as well as the two chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee, could not be reached for comment Monday and Tuesday.
Some city officials said they are happy with the bill because it helps out urban areas like New Haven.
Matos said she supports the bill because it would correct the “distorted representation” of large city populations in the current state legislature.
Adam Liegeot ’94, Rell’s spokesperson, said Rell declined to comment on the bill because she has not read it.
Ward 13 Alderman Alexander Rhodeen did not respond to multiple messages left on his voicemail Monday and Tuesday nights. Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead, the vice-chair of the Public Safety Committee, declined to comment because he did not know much about the bill.
The bill follows a battle between DeStefano and Rell over the efficacy of the state’s prison-re-entry program.
After three separate crimes that resulted in one fatality in New Haven last week, DeStefano called on the state to improve its “nonsense” re-entry-support programs for inmates, which he said do not provide rehabilitation programs. Rell shot back with a letter on Feb. 29 in which she said the state was doing enough to support the re-entry program.
Although DeStefano has requested a meeting with Rell to discuss the issue, no official meeting has yet been scheduled, Liegeot said.