Mert Dilek

With a new $1 million grant, New Haven will launch a fight against recidivism in partnership with the state of Connecticut and nonprofit organizations — the most collaborative effort to reduce the number of repeat offenders to date.

The federal Department of Justice’s Second Chance Act Grant aims to cut the number of repeat offenders in New Haven prisons by half in five years, City Community Services Administrator Martha Okafor announced Thursday at the Board of Alders Human Service Committee meeting. The project, which is part of a larger state and citywide attempt to address social issues linked to crime, follows years of local organizations tackling the same problem through individual efforts.

Okafor and Clifton Graves, administrator of the New Haven Project Fresh Start Reentry Program, lead the effort to reduce recidivism, which also receives support from three reintegration centers and numerous non-governmental organizations throughout New Haven.

“Our approach is a holistic one to coordinate with the services that fortunately do exist in the New Haven community,” Graves said. “The end goal being that we can provide folks with these services … that will lead to a better social reintegration to curb recidivism.”

The city is also working closely with the Connecticut Department of Correction — which won a similar federal grant — in addition to reintegration programs such as the Community Action Agency, Easter Seals Goodwill and Project More. New Haven will also collaborate with the Yale School of Medicine’s Transitions Clinic and multiple other local organizations.

Working with the Department of Correction will enable project coordinators to address the difficulties incarcerated individuals face when they return to their communities, Okafor and Graves said. The coordinators aim to connect individuals with the services they need after leaving prison, but the ultimate goal is to work with the court system to support people before they are even sentenced, Graves said.

“The key component is identifying early on the people who are going to be going back to the streets,” Graves said. “There are 100 a month.”

New Haven, the first city in Connecticut to secure this grant, won the largest award despite being the smallest city that applied for a grant. Graves attributed this to the program’s uniquely collaborative nature.

Sgt. Roy Davis, the police officer who oversees the Downtown district, said the city’s plan to work with convicted criminals six months before they are released from prison is unusual, explaining that re-entry into community life is usually facilitated during a three-day process.

The program coordinators will also partner with organizations such as the New Haven Family Alliance to support the families of prisoners preparing for release.

“When someone is incarcerated, the family is hurting,” Graves said. “The community itself suffers.”

The Connecticut Department of Correction, in its most recent study of recidivism in 2012, found that 79 percent of male offenders were rearrested within five years of release and 69 percent were convicted of a new crime.

Graves said one of the biggest barriers the project faces is that social stigma around incarceration prevents many former inmates from finding jobs when they leave prison.

“People make mistakes,” he said. “But once they’ve paid their dues, you have to at least give them a second chance.”

Gateway Community College will hold a reentry job fair on March 24, 2016.