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Connecticut officials praise state criminal justice system

January 2, 2019

HARTFORD — Members of the Criminal Justice Policy Advisory Commission (CJPAC) held their final meeting last week and took time to reflect on what many said were monumental, positive changes to the system they helped manage.

While the Malloy administration certainly has its critics, one of the of pluses of his eight-year tenure as governor that even some of his naysayers give him credit for is the sharp decrease in the number of prisoners.

At last week’s meeting, outgoing Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and members of CJPAC took a few bows for that accomplishment while acknowledging there is still much work left to do for Gov.-elect Ned Lamont and his administration.

Outgoing Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Michael P. Lawlor referred to the most recent statewide crime trends report that showed overall reported crime in 2017 in Connecticut was the lowest in 50 years.

The report, which is based on the most recent 2017 data, said there were 71,883 “index crimes,” which are crimes involving victims, i.e. murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson. The highest year for those type of crimes was 1990, the report said, when 177,068 occurred.

The total number of statewide arrests for all crimes dropped by 41 percent between 2009, when statewide arrests peaked at 138,719, and 2017, when there were 81,408 arrests - a drop of 7.5 percent from 2016.

By analyzing recent trends, the criminal justice policy and planning office is projecting that there will likely be about 6 percent fewer arrests when all statistics are compiled for 2018 than there were in 2017.

The report said that since Malloy took office in 2011, statistics show that the overall crime in the state has declined 19 percent, including a 19 percent decline in violent crimes.

Addressing members of CJPAC, Malloy said the group “got amazing things done.”

He added: “When it comes to criminal justice reform and prison reform Connecticut is the leading state in the nation.”

He said the state has been successful in “shutting down the high school to prison pipeline” during his tenure in office.

Lawlor, who was thanked by his fellow CJPAC members for his tireless efforts in tackling criminal justice issues, said he sometimes reflects back to his days as a state legislator in the 1980s when bringing up the issue “of criminal justice was radioactive.”

Lawlor, who will be teaching criminal justice as a tenured professor at the University of New Haven, even brought an old campaign slide he used when running in East Haven for the state legislature in the ’80s which had a photo of a campaign pamphlet which said: “Mike Lawlor is making sure they do the time,” with a picture of a prisoner in handcuffs.

“Times have really changed,” Lawlor said, referring to the fact that President Donald Trump recently signed into law the “First Step Act,” an act which enacts prison and sentencing reforms, giving judges more leeway in sentencing, retroactively applying earlier sentencing reforms and paving the road for earlier pre-release custody for certain inmates.

The “First Step Act” had bipartisan support, a rarity these days in Washington.

Lawlor said the federal law “is very similar to what Gov. Malloy led the way on in Connecticut.”

CJPAC was established under Public Act 06-193 . It held its first meeting in February of 2011. It was formerly the Prison and Jail Overcrowding Commission.

Members of CJPAC heaped praise on Lawlor for his stewardship of the committee’s work the past eight years.

“Your ability to bring everybody together to work collaboratively,” was one of your biggest strengths, Judge Patrick L. Carroll told Lawlor.

The news wasn’t all rosy at CJPAC’s last meeting as Lawlor and outgoing Corrections Commissioner Scott Semple said the incoming administration will be saddled with the ongoing problem of too many imprisoned being granted special parole.

The legislature in 2016 approved legislation designed to re-focus use of special parole sentences on high risk, violent and sexual offenders. The measure was suppose to address the overuse of special parole sentences on non-violent offenders, while allowing parole officers to focus their attention on the highest risk offenders.

But Lawlor and Semple said the problem is far from fixed.

While many of members, besides Lawlor will be leaving their work as the new administration takes over January 9, the members said the mission of reducing crime, reducing prison population and reducing spending will continue.

Members said Lamont has made a good first step by nominating nominating Rollin Cook to be his Department of Corrections Commissioner, replacing outgoing Semple. Cook most recently served as the executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections.

Cook will begin serving as the Commissioner-designate when Lamont is inaugurated. His nomination will be sent to the General Assembly for its advice and consent.

“Rollin Cook is a national expert and a leader in his field, and brings to this role experience as both a correctional officer and as an executive manager,” said Lamont.

Semple, also a member of CJPAC, said Lamont couldn’t have made a better choice to replace him.

Semple said he has worked with Cook in the past and “he’s highly respected on a national level.”

“I am very, very pleased that Rollin has agreed to come here,” Semple said. “He was highly recruited around the country. He’s probably the best candidate in the country.”

Lamont has expressed an interest in carrying on many of Malloy’s criminal justice reforms.

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