Gov. Dannel Malloy’s “Second Chance Society” proposal has been meeting some unexpected resistance in the legislature lately.
And while many constituents see great human, social and economic benefits in reducing the number of non-violent prison inmates, lessening penalties for non-violent drug offenses and reforming parole rules, others see trouble… and perhaps some unfairness.
At a recent public hearing on Senate bill 952, the majority of witnesses spoke in favor of the legislation. Defense attorneys, business people, state Republicans, church groups and organizations representing the African-American community all spoke in favor of some or all of the governor’s recommendations.
Two public witnesses, however, had perspectives that were decidedly different and in opposition to the proposals. Here is some of their written testimony:
Former inmate: Violent offenders deserve second chances, too.
My name is Chandra Bozelko and I am a resident of Orange and a Princeton graduate. This coming Tuesday will mark one year since my release from York Correctional Institution in Niantic. I served six years, three months and eleven days in the prison for nonviolent crimes that remain on appeal. I am probably the only person with a criminal record who will speak against this bill today.
While I was at York, I authored several articles on prison life and published a book entitled Up the River Anthology. I also had a newspaper column, Prison Diaries, which is now a blog. I sent every member of the committee a postcard about the blog earlier this year. I have published several opeds on justice reform including one I am attaching here that was published last October on the R.E.D.E.E.M. Act, a federal bill similar to portions of the Act Concerning a Second Chance Society being heard today.
I disagree with an Act Concerning a Second Chance Society for several reasons but I will list four of them today.
First, a real second chance society would fold in ex-offenders regardless of their record. I am not opposed to the expedited pardons portion of the bill because it is formalized redemption.
I am opposed to it, however, because it teaches ex-offenders that they can and should hide their pasts. Public health studies have shown that a staggering number of women – and men – in prison were sexually abused as children. It is a trauma that causes them to self-medicate with drugs so that they can keep the secret of their victimization. As I wrote in my oped, for abused people, it is the secrets that are the problem, not what has been exposed.
Second, the automatic pardon relief, while questionable to me in its benefit, comes too late for most ex-offenders. According to the state’s most recent recidivism report, 56 percent of ex-offenders were rearrested within two years. I fail to see what the benefit of an expedited pardon and expungement after five years will do to reduce recidivism.
Third, as someone who has re-entered society, I went through the job application process with a criminal record. To conduct employee background checks, the employer retained a private company that provided a copy of my record. Under the proposed bill, there is no provision for how to handle the cottage industry of background check companies, businesses who have paid for and sell criminal histories.
Will each company be court ordered not to use information that it has paid for and sells? How will this be implemented? If passed, this bill will eradicate public records of conviction for nonviolent offenders after five years, but the private records will remain to bar people from employment.
Fourth, the benefits of the bill are conferred mostly on non-violent offenders.
When Gov. Malloy repealed a portion of the parole statute in 2013 and singled out violent offenders, the effect of the bill was exactly opposite of what the governor intended in that the law ended up practically eliminating parole supervision for violent offenders.
Gov. Malloy and his Undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, Michael Lawlor, have touted supervision as the means to reducing recidivism. Yet, in their quest to assure than no violent offender ever gets a break, they ended up passing a law that threatens public safety by reducing parole supervision. I and another inmate, Mary Ames, penned an oped on this subject in 2013.
In my six-plus years in Niantic, I found that many women who were convicted of violent crimes had no violent tendencies at all. Their crimes were the result of extreme emotional disturbance; their recidivism rate is lower than that of non-violent offenders. Ninety-five percent of inmates will be released to society, regardless of the nature of their crimes. I doubt we want to establish an “Only Chance” society for them which is what this bill does. There is no road trip to reform that doesn’t bring violent offenders along for the ride.
I think that the framers of the bill have not consulted with enough ex-offenders to formulate a policy that will work to reduce recidivism and thin out the prison population. The bill needs to be reworked.
This is not to say that I do not applaud Gov. Malloy and this committee for tackling a touchy subject. Justice reform is difficult. But we will not get many chances to create a Second Chance Society. We need to do this right.
State’s Attorneys: Second Chance Society a misnomer
S.B. No. 952, An Act Concerning a Second Chance Society, would deem the possession of any quantity of any narcotic or controlled substance a misdemeanor offense, effectively deem that every convicted criminal is presumptively entitled to a pardon and establish insufficient standards for the parole board to apply in determining who is suitable to be released. This legislation makes these dramatic changes to the criminal justice system without any thorough analysis that would justify them and factually support the wrongful assumption that the system is now sending large numbers of people to jail who should not be there.
The Division of Criminal Justice strongly supports and fully endorses the need to provide treatment, training, employment and other assistance to those who are re-entering society from the correctional system. There is no question that failure to do so contributes to recidivism. As such, the Division would submit that the “second chance society” should focus on rehabilitation and re-entry rather than to simply deem that what has long been recognized as unacceptable and dangerous conduct to no longer constitute criminal conduct or a threat to public safety. While one component of such an approach may include revision to the pardons and parole system, it should not be essentially the wholesale abolition of a system that has long existed to protect the public safety while offering the “second chance.”
By its very title, S.B. No. 952, An Act Concerning a Second Chance Society, is a misnomer for it implies that the criminal justice system currently does not offer a “second chance.” For the vast majority of offenders, this is simply not the case. Most are offered not only a second chance, but multiple opportunities to avoid a criminal record. The Division would contend that careful analysis of the prison population – going beyond merely reading the “controlling offense” on which a particular inmate is held – would refute the oft-stated claim that we are locking up first- time offenders for non-violent drug offenses.
The reality is that persons who commit criminal acts, including possession of illicit drugs, are given multiple opportunities, some as the result of diversionary programs created by this very legislature and some as a result of the careful consideration of the prosecutor, to avoid criminal convictions.
Prosecutors routinely give persons who have committed non-violent crimes the opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction by performing community service, attending counseling, complying with other conditions for a period of time. If the person does what the prosecutor asks the person to do the prosecutor will enter what is called a nolle prosequi – a decision not to prosecute that with rare exceptions leads to dismissal of a case. Sometimes a prosecutor will even enter a nolle without requiring the person to do anything simply because the prosecutor feels the criminal act did not warrant the individual getting a criminal record.
Even if a case does proceed, most offenders are eligible for a host of diversionary programs which, if successfully completed by the offender, will result in the dismissal of the criminal charges. Many of those programs can be used more than once; for instance, the pretrial drug education and community service program can be used three times by an individual to avoid a conviction for a possessory drug offense, Similarly, legislation was enacted recently allowing some offenders to participate not once, but twice, in Accelerated Pretrial Rehabilitation – despite the fact that one of the longstanding criteria for qualifying for A/R was a finding that the offender is not likely to offend again. These programs provide individuals charged with crimes a dozen or so opportunities to avoid convictions.
Instead of changing the classification of crimes or making it easier to nullify convictions once they are obtained, the Division would again respectfully recommend that the General Assembly undertake a comprehensive and thorough study of the existing “second chance” programs to see if they are producing the intended results. Among the questions the General Assembly might want to ask are:
- How many people are using these programs?
- How many people are using the same program more than once?
- How many people are using multiple programs?
- How many people fail to complete a program?
- Why do people fail to complete a program?
- How many people using each program are subsequently arrested and convicted of other crimes?
- If people are subsequently arrested and convicted of other crimes, of what type of crimes are they convicted?
- What is the cost and benefit of these programs? In addition, if it is concluded that the programs are not being successful an evaluation should be undertaken to see why that is.
The Division further would dispute the often-stated contention that those convicted of non- violent drug offenses constitute a large percentage of the prison population.
Our experience shows that it is common for. persons charged with purely possessory offenses to receive multiple suspended sentences with the condition that the person receive drug treatment and/or a fine before incarceration is imposed. In determining the number of people who are incarcerated for drug possession only one cannot look solely at the controlling offense listed on the Department of Correction records. The controlling offense is often the result of a plea bargain whereby the state elects to forego a more serious offense in return for the individual’s plea to a possessory offense. With drug related offenses, for example, the state will sometimes allow an individual to plead to a possessory offense even though the individual was engaged in the sale of narcotics or clearly possessed the narcotics with the intent to sell.
In fact, the state may forego any number of charges in return for a guilty plea to a possessory offense. When the state engages in this kind of plea bargaining the defendant gets the benefit of having a conviction that carries less of a stigma than other crimes for which he might have been convicted. The state saves the expense and delays resulting from proceeding to trial.
Given these realities, the Division would respectfully recommend the Committee proceed with extreme caution with regard to those sections of S.B. No. 952 that would eviscerate the drug possession statutes and reclassify a host of serious crimes as misdemeanors.