So far, administration-backed measures have ended the use of the death penalty, decriminalized possession of small quantities of marijuana, and altered the bail system, among others. Malloy’s signature reform, his “Second Chance Society” legislation, makes it easier for people charged with nonviolent crimes to apply for parole and pardons, and reduces penalties for drug possession.
Inside prison walls, the person helping execute Malloy’s agenda is Corrections Commissioner Scott Semple, who told me he envisions a “progressive prison system” with programs to help inmates prepare for life after incarceration—like his new reintegration centers for people nearing the end of their sentences, and a small initiative allowing inmates to take manufacturing courses at a community college.
He’s also instituted the T.R.U.E. Program at one high-security prison. There, older inmates serving long-term sentences “mentor” and live in a unit with younger inmates, who also receive post-prison training. Some reform advocates hope the pilot can be replicated: “This is not namby-pamby therapy for cons, but a very well-thought-out, structured program that is intended to help people succeed when they are released, so they don’t come back,” said Nicholas Turner, president of the Vera Institute, a justice-reform organization.
There are now fewer prisoners and fewer prisons than there were when Malloy, a former prosecutor himself, assumed office. The state’s male prison population has fallen by about 20 percent and the smaller female prisoner population by 7 percent, according to state government figures. In April, Malloy presided over the closing of a 254-bed section of the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Connecticut’s southeast—one of four prison annexes, plus three entire prisons, that have closed since 2011. Crime, too, has fallen statewide. (It’s worth noting, though, that these reductions aren’t only attributable to the administration—they’ve also been fueled by a broader drop in crime in Connecticut since at least 2008, part of a national trend of declining crime rates.)
Despite political will from the governor’s office, there have been significant constraints on reform, including financial ones. T.R.U.E. is an illustrative example: The current program houses just 4 percent of the 18-to-25-year-old men in the state’s prisons, a shadow of the ambitious 700-plus-person facility Semple initially envisioned. He curbed its scale because of repeated cuts to his department’s funding, which are in part the result of state budget issues.
The most recent cut, nearly 12 percent this fiscal year, led to job losses within corrections, too: More than 180 employees were fired in spring 2016 and Semple said more layoffs are possible. “If I had more resources, I think the reforms could also go further,” Semple said. Hope Metcalf, who heads up a division at Yale Law School focused on human rights, agrees: The department must be “well-resourced enough so that they can actually do what they would agree is a progressive vision for incarceration,” she told me.