To reduce rates of recidivism among young adults, the state Department of Corrections created at the Cheshire Correctional Institution a unit for young men aged 18 to 25 in order to separate them from the general population.
The Truthfulness, Respectfulness, Understanding and Elevating program, which Gov. Dannel Malloy announced two weeks ago, provides the young offenders with developmentally appropriate programming designed by the state DOC in partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice, a national nonprofit research and policy organization. The unit currently houses 38 people, with a group of 14 new participants integrated every month until there are 70 participants, according to Malloy’s press statement. Each group is accompanied by two mentors who advise and oversee the group members. The mentors are level four, high security offenders who must apply to be part of the program.
“The choice to apply to be on the unit is important,” said Alex Frank, a senior program associate at VIJ. “Young people need to practice choice in their decision making.”
The program is modeled on a program in the German prison system that Malloy and DOC officials visited in 2015, according to the New Haven Register. The pilot program costs roughly half a million dollars, with $350,000 from grants and the remainder from the Cheshire Institution’s general operating budget, the Register reported.
Accountability and the freedom to succeed or fail is a recurring theme in the TRUE program’s structure, Frank said. Each day begins with a morning meeting, where participants and mentors speak about their hopes and anxieties of the day. Everyone in the unit then goes to work or school, both of which are located on site and come with a set of individual responsibilities. This is a drastic departure from the daily routine of a normal prison, where inmates are on the unit all day, Frank said.
Malloy said he hopes the program will give its prisoners another chance to reintegrate into society after they are released.
“We know that the longer we keep young people out of the adult criminal justice system, the less likely they are to commit crimes and become incarcerated as adults,” the governor said at the press conference. “All young people make mistakes.”
If a participant makes a mistake within the TRUE program, he undergoes the process of “restorative justice” — a conference with the offender, his group, his mentors and, depending on the severity of the infraction, DOC staff, said Frank. The offender is asked to speak about what he did, how he felt and what motivated him in the moment. His group and mentors speak to how his mistake made them feel, and the parties create a contract in which they promise to behave better.
The VIJ’s research indicates that young people exposed to criminality respond better to accountability and community than to punishment. The VIJ is now measuring the program’s effectiveness by comparing the unit’s incidence statistics to that of its counterparts. It will include measures of school test scores, number of family visits, number of violent incidents as well as descriptive reporting by DOC staff, mentors and participants, Frank said.
The DOC and VIJ will rework the program as data from the program is made available. The VIJ also seeks to implement this program in other correctional institutions across the nation, according to Frank.
“We want to transform prison for all people who are incarcerated,” she said.
The Cheshire Reformatory opened in 1913.