Addressing a crowd of over 100 state and city officials, activists and students Tuesday afternoon at the Yale Law School, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced major criminal justice reforms aimed at decreasing crime and reintegrating nonviolent offenders into society.
Malloy’s Second Chance Society initiatives seek to build on progress made in reducing the state’s crime rate, which is already at a 48-year low. Malloy’s plan centers on five main points: reclassifying specific nonviolent offenses, eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession, streamlining both the parole system and the pardons system, and creating job and housing opportunities for ex-offenders.
“When making an honest living is not an honest option, too many will choose a lifetime of crime,” Malloy said. “[These initiatives] will help break the cycle of crime and poverty that hurts too many families and communities … Now is time to double down on efforts and what evidence will tell us will work.”
Malloy said he plans to unveil additional executive actions in the upcoming days. He added that he intends to work with non-profit organizations, housing advocates and even religious institutions to implement the initiative’s goals. He also highlighted the role of community colleges in bolstering job training for released ex-criminals.
Professor Jacob Hacker GRD ’00, director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, introduced the governor, applauding Malloy’s success over his first term in drastically cutting crime rates in Connecticut during his first term. Hacker cited a 12 percent decrease in Connecticut prison admissions in the past five years, as well as 42 percent drop in urban homicides and 50 percent drop in fatal urban shootings since 2009.
Malloy attributed these falling crime rates to criminal justice reforms made during his first term as governor, which include the implementation of Project Longevity, a community and law enforcement initiative to reduce violent crime in New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford.
“[Those reforms] are making Connecticut a national model for proving that smart criminal justice reforms can lead to safer communities, less victimization and more opportunity to succeed,” Malloy said.
At the announcement, Harp voiced her support for Malloy’s proposals as well. She said the reintegration of nonviolent offenders into society is especially a priority in New Haven.
“We want to reunite families, welcome these people home to our communities, and restore them to contributing productive lives here,” Harp said.
The initiatives will also save taxpayers money, Malloy said, as the state would no longer hold nonviolent offenders in state correctional facilities for unnecessarily long durations.
Malloy expects the initiative to rally substantial legislative support due to the “bipartisan” nature of the issue.
“These ideas that I’ve outlined are not Democratic or Republican,” said Malloy. “They are ideas that are working for states across the country, red and blue … even in conservative, tough-on-crime states like Texas or Mississippi or Georgia or Alabama.”
Hacker echoed Malloy’s sentiment, saying that nationally, Republicans are pursuing similar reforms. He added, however, that partisanship is greater in Connecticut and will be a significant hurdle in passing legislation on these initiatives. Hacker added that Republicans are more likely to be critical of Malloy’s administration due to the power imbalance in the State Legislature.
Undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Mike Lawlor said the administration had extended invitations to Republicans in the state legislature, but these lawmakers did not attend the event.
State House minority leader Themis Klarides told the New Haven Independent that she and Senate minority leader Len Fasano had received emails about the event only 24 minutes prior to its start time.
John Santa, chairman of the board of the Malta Justice Initiative, a criminal justice reform advocacy group, commended Malloy on delivering a message that people might not necessarily want to hear.
“We spent the last 40 years being tough on crime,” Santa said. “It has not served us well, and yet it takes a lot of courage to stand up and say that there’s a better way to do this.”
Santa noted, however, that these initiatives could prompt politicians to label Malloy as “soft on crime,” adding that he expects Republicans and Democrats alike to exert resistance in the state legislature.
Violent crime in the state has dropped 36 percent over the last four years.
Correction, Feb. 4: A previous version of this article inaccurately referred to the Institution for Social and Policy Studies as the Institution for Social and Political Sciences.