Between 2008 and 2018, the state prison population has fallen by 30 percent, and the minority prison population has dropped by 32 percent, according to the Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division in Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management.

The total state prison population was 13,649 in 2018, decreasing from 15,500 in 2016. The state saw the highest total prison population in 2008, with 19,800 total prisoners, according to Connecticut Statistical Analysis Center Director Ivan Kuzyk.

Marc Pelka, undersecretary of the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management’s Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division, told the News that while it is “hard to pinpoint a single policy or trend,” he named a few reasons for the decline in state prison population.

First, he noted a decrease in reported crime and arrests, which also coincided with a drop in prison admissions.

“Put differently, fewer crimes and arrests helped contribute to a lower volume of people admitted to prison,” he said.

Data collected by the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management reflects this trend. The state index crime has decreased by 26 percent from 2008 to 2016, and from 2009 to 2017, there was a 28 percent decrease in prison admits.

Pelka added that improvements in agency operations and coordination involving the Department of Correction and Parole Board has “led to a more streamlined review of cases eligible for release and a more expeditious parole hearing process.”

Pelka also told the News that declining rates of recidivism, or relapse in criminal behavior, have helped decrease the volume of people in prison. According to a presentation by the State of Connecticut Office of Policy and Management Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division, recidivism rates among male prisoners has decreased from 38 percent of released individuals returning to prison after release in 2005 to 34 percent in 2014.

Additionally, Pelka noted that the Risk Reduction Earned Credit Program — a statewide early-release program which enables eligible individuals to earn credits off their sentences after completing programs and classes — contributes to the reduction in Connecticut’s prison population.

Kuzyk said that Connecticut is “rather unique” because it is one of six states with a unified prison system — where the state operates both jails and prisons.

Connecticut is not alone in seeing its prison population drop in recent years, Pelka told the News. Between 2008 and 2016, regionally, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York all saw double-digit percent drops in imprisonment rates and crime rates, he said. According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, imprisonment rates — which refer to the number of people incarcerated per 100,000 residents of all ages —  for the three states have dropped by 20 percent, 28 percent and 17 percent, respectively. As a nation, there has been an 11 percent drop in imprisonment rates.

“Based on an analysis of recent prison population trends, the Office of Policy and Management anticipates that the number of people in prison will decline 2.3 percent between February 2019 and 2020. This is a slower rate of reduction than has occurred in many of the previous 10 years,” Pelka told the News.

On Jan. 1, 2018, there were 762 people incarcerated in Connecticut aged 18–21, 3,300 people incarcerated aged 22–29, 4,298 people incarcerated aged 30–39 and 4,934 people incarcerated over the age 40, according to the Connecticut Department of Correction.

The total number of releases and discharges, however, has decreased on the whole. In 2011, the total number of releases and discharges of sentenced individuals was 20,641. Over the next few years, the number of released individuals continued to drop, with only 16,481 individuals released in 2016.

Since 2002, the racial and ethnic composition of the prison population has remained relatively static. For almost two decades, 25–27 percent of the prison population has been Hispanic, 29–31 percent has been white and 41–45 percent has been black. The remaining 1–3 percent are labeled “other” by the Connecticut Department of Correction.

Sammy Westfall | sammy.westfall@yale.edu