A Second Chance, with Caveats
Governor Dan Malloy spoke at the Law School this Tuesday to announce his new Second Chance Society initiative for New Haven’s criminal justice system. Before diving into his list of reforms, he spent a significant amount of time acknowledging some of the recent successes of Connecticut’s criminal justice system. The state’s crime rate is at a 48-year low. Over the last four years, violent crime is down 36 percent and criminal arrests have decreased by nearly 28 percent. In addition, Connecticut’s prison population has dropped to the lowest it has been in 16 years. While this is progress we want to see, these figures too easily clump together the areas of wealth and urban poverty that Connecticut is known for. It seems that this oversight of the variety of populations in Connecticut will also carry over into the reforms that Malloy has proposed.
Connecticut is hosts some of the wealthiest and poorest counties in the U.S. For example, Fairfield County is home to the poor post-industrial city of Bridgeport as well as the suburban streets of Greenwich. Five percent of Fairfield County residents share 30% of the area’s income while the bottom 20% split just 2.3% of it. These large income disparities also occur in New Haven, Connecticut’s second biggest city after Bridgeport. From the 2013 census, over 26% of individuals in New Haven live below the poverty line while only 10.2% of Connecticut’s population live in poverty.
The income disparities closely align with the crime rates within these different cities. For instance, in 2013, 778 of the 9,440 violent crimes committed in Connecticut occurred in New Haven. There was an average of 402 crimes per square mile in New Haven compared to the state’s average of just 23. While Malloy did mention that in the past year “violent crime in our largest cities fell 15%” since 2008, this is still less than half of the decline seen for the rest of the state in only the past four years. Cities like New Haven and Bridgeport have a longer way to go to meet the lower crime averages found in wealthier, usually less urban parts of the states.
With these disparities in mind, it’s possible to see some of the roadblocks that will arise as Governor Malloy implements his proposal. His Second Chance Society initiatives focus on making it easier for nonviolent offenders to more easily re-enter the workplace and society. The five areas of focus include: reclassifying drug offenses as a misdemeanor unless there is an intent to sell, giving justices more flexibility in sentences by eliminating mandatory minimums for non-violent drug possession, streamlining parole hearings and pardon processes, and assisting individuals re-entering society by increasing accessibility to jobs and housing. Malloy hopes to work in collaborations with non-profit organizations, religious institutions, and housing programs to help implement these goals.
These initiatives will be proposed at the 2015 session of the General Assembly. In the coming weeks, Malloy says he will continue to roll out executive actions augmenting the goals of the Second Chance Society.
These initiatives add to past efforts Malloy has launched to make the criminal justice system more efficient and more lenient for non-criminal offenders. While governor, he has increased the efficiency of the states crime lab, helped decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and invested $15 million to replace the criminal justice system’s old structure of documentation with a unified information sharing system. In addition, Malloy created Project Longevity, a community and law enforcement initiative that focuses on reducing crime in Connecticut’s three major cities: New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford. As Malloy emphasized in his address, these efforts along with the ones he proposed on Tuesday are trying to decrease nonviolent offenders’ time in prison and streamline a usually slow system.
However, the Malloy administration may struggle to implement these new initiatives in Connecticut’s poorer cities, where issues of job employment and homelessness are already looming large, even for people without criminal records. When pushed on the issue of the already incredibly long waitlists (up to 6 years) for homes for New Haven’s homeless, Governor Malloy only reiterated the fact that he has made a goal to end veterans’ homelessness in Connecticut by 2015. If these initiatives do not have a structure to give more support to cities that are needier and are already dealing with a more impoverished community, they will not help redress the gap of crime rates between wealthier and poorer areas of Connecticut. To do so, Malloy should also address the income disparity with his Second Chance Society.