Earlier this winter our newspapers wrote about a budget-driven decision to bring back controversial 45-day early release furloughs for prisoners.
One of the complaints we heard at the time was that while the state was trying to decrease its prison population to cut costs in the midst of the budget crisis, the social safety net needed to keep these folks from re-offending and again winding up in jail on the taxpayer’s dime was fraying.
Last week the Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a variety of bills, including a proposed study of whether the state should consider matching existing federal tax credits available to private sector businesses that hire individuals convicted of a crime. In light of our re-entry furlough stories, the legislation caught my eye. It’s hard enough for ex-offenders to secure jobs during good times, and the idea is to sweeten the pot further for employers willing to take a chance.
This tax credit is certainly no silver bullet, as Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, a ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, pointed out in an interview at the time. O’Neill said while worth studying, tax credits might not convince risk-averse employers to take a chance on hiring someone with a criminal past.
The reason I’m raising this issue now is because yesterday legislative Democrats shocked many observers by proposing, as part of a new budget package, cutting prison personnel and diverting an additional 4,000 non-violent offenders from incarceration.
My colleague, Ken Dixon, has the full story here.
And what, besides the possible business tax credit study, are the Democrats proposing to ensure these 4,000 individuals successfully return to society and do not re-offend?
Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, a Judiciary Committee co-chairman, said he is not sure, and that’s one reason he opposes his party’s budget proposal.
“It doesn’t appear to be a comprehensive or coordinated approach to successful re-entry strategies,” McDonald said. “Community release programs need to be tightly framed and structured so that they are successful models … Doing it in an unstructured or haphazard way would compromise public safety and set back initiatives that we have been working on on a bi-partisan basis for years.”
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association recently called for additional prison reforms that would allow the state to shutter correctional institutions and cut the deficit. But CBIA emphasized the need for “more innovation and a continuing focus on preparing state inmates for a successful re-entry into society (with) effective services for treatment, job training and reintroduction into communities.”
I’ve sent two e-mails – one late last night, another this morning – to a Democratic spokesman seeking additional details about their plans for the 4,000 prisoners and so far have not received a response.
But I think they’re going to need to come up with more than a tax credit study.