The Connecticut Department of Corrections (CDOC) has increased its number of discretionary releases due to the coronavirus pandemic. CDOC spokeswoman Karen Martucci explained that in April 2020, the CDOC reduced the amount of time a prisoner had to serve before becoming eligible for release from 50% of the sentence to 40%. In March 2020, the CDOC increased by 51% the number of discretionary releases for prisoners with more than six months remaining on their sentences.
But a Hearst Connecticut Media analysis shows the steep drop is overwhelmingly attributed to a decline in new admissions rather than an increase in releases.
While Mike Lawlor, a professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, worked as criminal justice advisor to former Governor Dannel Malloy, his focus was on crime reduction and a corresponding reduction in Connecticut’s prison population. Lawlor said, “Our principal focus was identifying who really needs to be incarcerated, for example, who’s a dangerous person, a predatory-type person, as opposed to someone who is dealing with a host of other issues like mental illness or substance abuse or homelessness.” He added, “What’s very clear, especially now, in retrospect, is if you can address those things effectively, on the very front end, you end up with a lot less crime, a lot fewer people being arrested, and a much smaller prison population.”
Lawlor’s comments are reflected by the data. Between March 1 and June 1, 2020, only 446 people entered the prison population, compared to 1,749 from the same period in the previous year. However, even those numbers may be attributed to the pandemic because the three months prior saw 1,550 people added to the state’s prisoner population.
This period saw a 19% decline in the number of white prisoners but only a 14% decline in the number of Black and Hispanic prisoners. The reasons for this remain unclear. As in many jurisdictions throughout the United States, racial and ethnic minorities make up the majority of Connecticut’s prisoners.
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