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'Reimagining Prison' Forum Highlights Experimental Connecticut Program

Pat Eaton-Robb
Gov. Malloy, First Lady Cathy Malloy and Correction Department Commissioner Scott Semple speak with inmates inside the Cheshire Correctional Institution in May. The inmates are part of a pilot program to support young offenders.

Governor Dannel Malloy says Connecticut is leading the nation in prison reform. He spoke at a “Reimagining Prison” conference, and focused on a program at the Cheshire Correctional Institution that provides a less restrictive environment for young male offenders.

Malloy told participants at the conference that he’s championed criminal justice reform ever since he became Connecticut governor in 2011.  

“I understand that prison was where opportunity ended, and I wanted to change that dynamic.”

He says he implemented the idea of a less restrictive prison environment for young offenders after visiting such a facility in Germany two years ago.

“Prison is the opportunity to save people, first by not having them go to prison, particularly when they are young. But secondly, to understand that there is time and it doesn’t have to be wasted. And there are things that we can do along the lines in Germany where they have job training programs that immediately lead to a job placement, in many cases while you are still incarcerated.”

The highlight of the conference was a simulcast discussion with incarcerated young men and correctional staff at the TRUE (Truthfulness, Respectfulness, Understanding and Elevating) program at the Cheshire facility. Jermaine Young, one of the longer-serving inmates who mentors younger inmates in the program, says inmates in the program are often permitted outside their cells for up to 16 hours a day. Young says this helps to humanize the prison environment.

“Inmates are conditioned to look at staff a certain way. And staff are conditioned to look at inmates a certain way. So to break that barrier it takes time. I think we’ve built that culture over there in the TRUE unit, not with everybody but with the majority of folks, we built that culture. So my vision would be that that type of culture exist throughout the whole Department of Corrections.”

Young says he’s hoping that a new Connecticut governor next year will continue with the program. Connecticut is also leading the nation in the rate of reduction of its prison population. It’s projected that by next year, the state’s prison population will be about half of its all-time high of 20,000 inmates in 2008.   

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.