Shrinking Prison Population in Connecticut Shifts Focus of Correctional System

Feb 26, 2016

In December, the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Correction captured the attention of criminal justice reform advocates with a proposal for a new facility solely for 18-to-25-year-olds. It's part of a string of initiatives under the leadership of Scott Semple.

Connecticut's prison population is at its lowest in years.

Commissioner Scott Semple has seen the transition taking place inside the DOC from the time he started as a correction officer back in 1988.

"It was a system in chaos," he said. "Gang issues; the system was growing dramatically. The commissioner at the time took a back-to-basics approach, and said we can’t take a direction in treatment until we had safe and secure facilities.”

Today, Connecticut’s prison population is at its lowest in years. Last month, there were a total of 15,500 inmates, down from almost 20,000 in 2008.

Now the department, in Semple’s words, is “doubling down on re-entry initiatives” so people can return to their communities successfully and not end up back in prison.

Tackling recidivism goes along with Governor Dannel Malloy’s priorities under his Second Chance Society.

In fact, Semple and Malloy were in Germany last summer learning about its prison system. Semple said Connecticut’s new facility for 18-to-25-year-old men is modeled after what they saw overseas.

“That age group has the highest rate of return in terms of their propensity to recidivate,” he said.

Semple has a DOC committee working on plans for the new facility. He said they're reviewing best practices and research on brain development, so they can craft specialized programming for this age group. Semple said correction officers also will need additional training.

“This population is impulsive in nature," he said. "We are evaluating some statistics that say they are responsible for a quarter of incidents that occurred within our correctional facilities. I envision the rate of incidents in our other facilities will decline because we’re focused on immediate needs of this particular population.”

Currently there are 3,300 inmates between the ages of 18 and 25. Semple said this summer, the committee will announce the location for the young men’s prison. Later, a female program at York also will be developed.

A focus on re-entry within the DOC started rolling out last year with the opening of the Cybulski Community Reintegration Center at the Willard-Cybulski prison in Enfield. There, inmates get specific programming and assistance before they finish up their sentences and head back into the community.

The same prison has a Veterans Unit that offers former service members specialized programming with the goal of helping them transition back to their communities successfully.

Just last week, the department announced another reintegration unit at York, the state's only women's prison.