In 2014, at York Correctional Institution, Amy Rolon fell from her wheelchair. Nearby, correction officers watched her fall. Rolon, who was suffering from heroin withdrawal, writhed on the ground after hitting her head. She tried to climb back into the wheelchair and fell again. For 20 minutes, scores of staff members at York witnessed Rolon struggle. Nobody helped.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly are to be commended for their 2015 “Second Chance Society” legislation, reversing racist laws that filled our jails with nonviolent drug users, most of them African-American and Latino. But it is ill-advised to pursue announced policies emanating from that corrective action; especially plans for secret trials of defendants in their early 20s.
Many ex-convicts who get out of prison end up in Hartford on our streets. According to a Pew Center on the States study, almost half of ex-cons soon end up back in jail for committing crime because it is sometimes their only way to pay their bills. I work as a chaplain at a prison in Connecticut and many convicts, including military veterans, approach and complain to me that they have no future outside of those walls since a lot of them went to prison while they were young, didn’t have education, and worst of all, have a criminal record that will follow them around. I believe that a person who committed a non-violent crime and served a punishment for it should be given a second chance.
During its special session, the legislature will consider the governor’s Second Chance proposal, which aims to make sure that a minor criminal offense does not forever bar a person from success. Policymakers should take the opportunity of the special session to extend second chances to children as well. Three quarters of inmates in state prisons do not have high school diplomas, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. One of the most effective ways to cut our prison population is to increase our graduation rate. During the regular session, two no-cost proposals that would help kids in the juvenile justice system thrive in high school and beyond did not come to a vote.
Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposal for reforms to Connecticut’s criminal justice system deserves widespread support in the General Assembly. There is no doubt there is room for improvement when it comes to how Connecticut deals with sentencing, its prison population, parole and probation.
Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposal for a Second Chance Society embraces rehabilitation. There is another measure before the legislature getting less attention, the so-called “Second Look Bill” that would provide for the possibility of parole for people who are serving very long sentences for crimes they committed before their 18th birthdays. Passing it is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do.