Pubdate: Thu, 28 Feb 2002
Source: Hartford Courant (CT)
Copyright: 2002 The Hartford Courant
Author: Tom Condon
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


Whenever some unfortunate knucklehead gets busted for drugs or a shooting, 
we're always shocked to learn he has a lengthy criminal record. When 
28-year-old Anthony Carter was arrested last fall for the shooting of young 
Takira Gaston, he was already in jail for a parole violation. He'd been a 
major gang drug dealer, had done five years in the snoozer and had gone 
back to selling drugs.

They all have long records. This is the problem.

Carter, who will go to trial in April, is one of 300 to 400 young men in 
Hartford, by police estimates, who commit crimes over and over, going in 
and out of jail, on and off probation. This relatively small band of bozos 
is killing the city's chances of a comeback and costing all of us a bloody 
fortune in the process.

Here's Hartford trying to be New England's Rising Star, continually 
embarrassed by homicides - five so far this year - and drug crime. 
Community activists are out taking home videos of drug transactions.

Making matters worse, the city's budget crisis makes it almost certain that 
there'll be fewer cops on the street this year.

This bodes ill unless the city and state start doing business differently. 
They've got to put the emphasis on the Anthony Carters, the multiple 
offenders, the recidivists.

Incredibly, the state does not track recidivism. No one had even studied 
the problem until the General Assembly's legislative program review and 
investigations committee voted to do it last year.

The study, released in December, looked at 4,006 felons released from 
prison in 1997. It found what street cops already knew - that 70 percent of 
the released felons were arrested at least once for a new crime in the next 
three years. The study also looked at 10,402 felons sentenced to probation 
that year, and found that almost 60 percent were arrested for a new crime 
in the three-year period.

Many of the study's findings come as no surprise. The highest recidivism 
rates were among young, male, African American offenders. The younger a 
person began his adult criminal career, the more likely he (90 percent of 
the inmates were male) was to keep at it. Low education levels, as well as 
mental illness and substance abuse, are factors in this complex formula.

What is somewhat surprising is the revelation that participation in prison 
or community-based rehabilitation, treatment and service programs did not 
significantly reduce the rate of recidivism. The two programs that appeared 
to reduce recidivism were participation in prison industries and, for 
probationers, taking part in the judicial department's day incarceration 

National research indicates these programs can have a modest impact on 
recidivism. They also have other benefits, such as offering structure and 
incentives in prison.

"There is general agreement among researchers [that] interventions for 
repeat offenders should combine a variety of components such as education, 
work training, counseling, and other services, be intensive, and be 
tailored to offender subgroups (i.e., sex offenders, women, gang members, 
mentally ill, etc.)," the study says.

Reading the report, well done by committee analyst Renee La Mark Muir, I'm 
struck again that the jails are a POW camp in the failed war against drugs. 
A third of the inmates and 53 percent of the probationers were in on drug 
charges. Many of the property criminals and others are also driven by the 

Maybe these people never burgled your house, but they've gotten into your 
wallet. Connecticut has spent more than $1 billion on new jails since 1989. 
The annual budget for the seven criminal justice agencies is $911 million, 
with the Department of Correction budget the leader at more than $500 
million. The city's police budget is about $38 million, for now.

For this, the prison population has grown to record numbers. We now have 
about 18,500 male inmates, and the department wants authorization to send 
another 500 inmates to Virginia.

The recidivism report recommends, sensibly enough, that we start tracking 
recidivism. Good data can help determine what kind of help an inmate might 
respond to, what services he'll need after release. The information should 
help determine which community programs work and how resources should be 

Some steps are under way that should reduce recidivism, said state Rep. Bob 
Farr of West Hartford, who should be credited for bringing this issue to 
the fore. He said the proposed Community Justice Centers, for nonviolent 
inmates nearing the end of their sentences or those struggling in a 
community program, should help prevent a new arrest. A new Offender-Based 
Tracking System due to come online later this year should allow officials 
to track recidivism for the first time.

Correction spokeswoman Christina Polce said the department is broadening 
education, job placement and counseling programs in an effort to reduce 

In a way, the criminal justice system is government run backwards. We come 
up with a billion dollars for jails, while community leaders struggle to 
build a Boys and Girls Club in Hartford's Asylum Hill neighborhood. The 
state does extensive pre-sentence reports on serious felons, usually people 
with lengthy records. "These guys are already in big trouble," Farr said. 
"We need to get to them the first time they come in." If not before.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager