Despite budget woes, Connecticut should continue prison reform

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Mark Pazniokas CTMIRROR.ORG

Night shift at the Osborn Correctional Facility clothing factory.

The CTMirror story on the Vera Institute’s tour of Osborn Correctional Institution highlighted the mindset shift that has occurred under Commissioner Scott Semple’s watch, not to mention his progressive efforts to make incarceration an opportunity for true rehabilitation. Those efforts have been negatively impacted by the state’s dire budget situation to be sure, but the hope is that as we confront our immediate crisis we also seize the opportunities to address those factors that led to this scenario.

Specifically, our businesses in the state’s leading sectors continually voice their concerns with the wide workforce gap. Meanwhile, we have a cadre of men and women who will return to their communities, ideally equipped with the skills needed to contribute positively to our economy. Moreover, the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act mandates employment opportunities for disadvantaged populations, including former offenders.

Strides have certainly been made in that regard, in part thanks to initiatives such as Asnuntuck and Housatonic Community Colleges, which partner with the DOC to offer manufacturing classes, and the BEST Chance program, which trains former offenders in culinary, construction and manufacturing fields. A full-court press on our state’s businesses is the next logical step, securing their input on the precise skills and policy changes needed to fill the workforce gap.

There are many circumstances that lead people to incarceration, and those who have committed crimes must pay their debt to society. It is in the state’s best interest to work collaboratively so that individuals have the requisite tools so another debt is not incurred.

Andrea Comer is Executive Director of the CBIA Education & Workforce Partnership.

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