New regulations create a challenge for ex-prisoners trying to return to a normal life
By ADAM BULGER, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
October 04, 2007
On Friday, Sept. 19, the state's Department of Correction ordered that every resident of a halfway house in Connecticut go home from work. They were able to return to their jobs the next day. New restrictions were put in place as part of an ongoing reassessment of the state's criminal justice system in the wake of the July home invasion and murders in Cheshire. The roughly 1,200 former prisoners living in the state's halfway houses are now only allowed to leave halfway house facilities for work, religious services and treatment.
DOC officials say the restrictions are not permanent, but have not said how long they will be in place. Some state criminal justice experts and professionals worry about the effects of the new restrictions.
"It's going to have detrimental effects if it keeps going," said Stephen Cox, chair of Central Connecticut State University's Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
Cox co-wrote a 2006 recidivism report for the DOC that determined prisoners released into residential programs had about half the re-entry rate of those that spent their sentence in prisons. He said housing and employment are the largest factors in preventing re-entry and worries that the restrictions placed on halfway house residents and recently paroled will hinder ex-offenders.
"There are a lot of people in halfway house programs. They're people who have been out of prison and doing pretty well with their jobs or whatever," Cox said. "We're disrupting their lives. ... Whatever progress they've made in the outside world is gone."
The new restrictions appear to make it harder for halfway house residents to work. Sherry Albert, vice president for Windsor-based Community Solutions, Inc., a non-profit group that runs 11 Connecticut halfway houses, including Hartford's Cheyney House, said the new supervision on halfway house residents is interfering with their jobs.
"Some employers [of halfway house residents] were upset and concerned. They have their own respective businesses they're trying to run. They need our clients to be available for work without being pulled off the job," Albert said. "They need our clients to work continuously, and not have to leave their posts to make a bunch of calls to the program and interrupt business at hand."
Simply getting to work becomes difficult, or impossible, under the restrictions.
"The travel restriction is that a working client can only have an hour travel time to get to and from the program to the place of employment," Albert said. "As many citizens in Connecticut who have to travel by bus know, bus schedules don't work that quickly."
Lou Paturco, coordinator for the Hartford-based ex-offender rehabilitation group the New Day Program, said many ex-offenders are unable to use his group's services, including job training and placement programs, under the new restrictions.
Furloughs and family visits have also been limited by the new restrictions. Those visits provide undervalued re-integration experience for ex-offenders and their families.
"It provides a gradual plan for release" Albert said. "Re-learning has to go on both sides, both for the person coming out of prison as well as for the family's acceptance of that person coming back in the home because things have changed while they're away."