The Housing Authority of New Haven has pitched a new program that will provide former prison inmates with housing, tuition to complete a college degree and other support services with the goal of deterring second-time offenses.
The program, dubbed Connecticut Fresh Start, would begin in a trial period with four families, each of which has one previously incarcerated member.
Housing Authority Executive Director Karen Dubois-Walton proposed Connecticut Fresh Start to the authority’s board at its monthly meeting last Tuesday. The program, which would partially be funded using state resources, is consistent with Gov. Dannel Malloy’s recent call for a Second Chance Society, City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer said.
“Very often when offenders are released, if they have no structure, there’s a greater risk of them falling back into anti-social and criminal behavior,” Grotheer said, adding that Connecticut Fresh Start would ideally lessen the risk of recidivism.
According to Grotheer, the desired outcome of the program is to keep offenders out of prison by helping them become contributing members of the community.
To identify those with the greatest potential to benefit from the program, he thinks the best candidates will distinguish themselves while they are still incarcerated by taking classes and working to improve themselves even before they are released.
Once candidates are selected, Connecticut Fresh Start will provide former inmates and their families with housing and a cost-of-living stipend of up to $30,000, depending on the size of the family. In addition, the housing authority will offer academic help for any children in the family and other support services.
The program will then provide the former inmates with tuition to complete degrees at any Connecticut college or university approved by the housing authority. The previous offenders will be given three years to complete a four-year degree on the condition that they refrain from criminal activity and maintain a 3.0 GPA. Dubois-Walton also noted that recipients who fail to comply with the program’s rules and design would lose their tuitions and stipends. In extreme cases, they could also face eviction.
Connecticut Fresh Start emphasizes this academic component to provide former inmates with resources to find well-paying jobs and ultimately become self-sufficient.
“All the data says that people have a higher earning potential with a college degree or even higher degree,” Dubois-Walton said.
She said the housing authority had seen a number of men and women start college courses in prison, but then face of barriers to continuing their degrees, including restrictions on receiving financial aid because of their criminal records.
Darby Herkert ’18, who volunteers for the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project, said she has noticed that many of the prisoners she has tutored have been failed by the school system but still want to learn.
“Providing tuition is a great way to promote education as an alternate path and prevent people from getting back in jail,” Herkert said.
Despite the program’s potential, Dubois-Walton identified the state’s current budgetary constraints as a possible obstacle to Connecticut Fresh Start’s success. Even though it would be a “modest investment,” Dubois-Walton said she recognized that other cuts are already being made, and that the program would be a new expense.
Connecticut House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, a Republican representing the 114th District, which borders New Haven, said she thinks Connecticut Fresh Start is a good program to put money into as long as the parameters are narrow. However, she noted that legislators have already seen “a lot of problems” with Connecticut’s re-entry program because former inmates have failed to comply with rules and guidelines.
“This is a society of second chances and I believe that,” Klarides said. “The bottom line is: You have to earn [a second chance].”