Connecticut’s African-American and Hispanic prison populations have decreased significantly more than the state’s white prison population in the last seven years, according to a report released last Thursday.
The report, conducted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a national nonprofit organization focused on public safety, included prison population data broken down by race and year for Connecticut, Georgia and North Carolina. The study revealed that, between 2008 and 2015, Connecticut’s African-American and Hispanic prison populations decreased by 21 percent and 23 percent, respectively, while the white prison population decreased by just 6 percent.
“We are very proud that as we continue to reduce our prison population, we’ve continued to reduce crime,” said Mike Lawlor, Connecticut’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning and chair of the Board of Directors of the CSG Justice Center.
Lawlor said he attributed this reduction in inmates to the increased focus under Gov. Dannel Malloy on incarceration for violent crimes rather than for nonviolent victimless crimes, such as drug possession and drug sale, for which racial disparity is more pronounced.
He cited the 2011 marijuana decriminalization bill as an example of a policy that minimizes incarceration for a non-violent victimless crime. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, blacks in Connecticut were 3.3 times more likely to be arrested as whites for marijuana possession in 2010. Since the 2011 bill, there have been 6,000 fewer marijuana-related arrests each year.
According to NBC Connecticut, punishment for marijuana possession has been reduced to fines only.
Lawlor added that arrests in Connecticut are 28 percent lower than they were in 2008, and recidivism rates have also dropped since Risk Reduction Earned Credits were instituted in 2011. Risk Reduction Earned Credits are given to prisoners for participating in programs that reduce their risk of recidivism and accompanying good behavior. These credits can then be used for a maximum of five days off their prison sentence per month.
Mark Abraham ’04, executive director of Datahaven, a nonprofit that analyzes public data from Connecticut and Greater New Haven, pointed out that although the number of African-American and Hispanic inmates has dropped, there are still twice as many African Americans and Hispanics as there are whites in Connecticut prisons — even though whites outnumber blacks and Hispanics by an almost three-to-one ratio in the state’s general population.
“This continuing level of inequity has enormous implications for children, families, and neighborhoods as a whole,” he said in an email.
Abraham added that the state or CSGJC should consider publishing a follow-up report that looks at whether disparities have been reduced between neighborhoods in the state’s major cities, not just between racial and ethnic groups at a statewide level.
Chance Jackson, a coordinator of Project Fresh Start, a city initiative aimed at reintegrating released inmates back into society, noted that the number of inmates released into New Haven has been pretty stable over recent years, but the New Haven Correctional Center, located on Whalley Avenue, was overpopulated. The warden of the New Haven Correctional Center could not be reached for comment.
In 2013, the FBI reported that violent crime dropped in Connecticut by twice the national average.
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