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Malloy nominates Semple to head state Department of Correction

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday nominated Acting Department of Correction Commissioner Scott Semple as the permanent head of the department, a move that pleases local leaders who hope to change state policies on sex-offender housing.

Semple and officials from the state probation and parole offices met with Norwich city officials, police and local state legislators in November to discuss a controversial, state-subsidized apartment house on Broad Street in Norwich that had housed violent sex offenders on probation or parole.

Although Semple said at the time he would not prohibit future placements in the REACH — Re-entry Assisted Community Housing — facility on Broad Street, he pledged to examine the policy of leasing units in residential neighborhoods throughout the state. Semple earlier in 2014 had ordered no additional placements at a similarly controversial house in Manchester.

Semple has been serving as acting commissioner of the agency since August 2014 following the retirement of James E. Dzurenda from the position. His nomination will be reviewed first by the General Assembly’s Executive and Legislative Nomination Committee, which would forward a recommendation to the General Assembly.

“Scott has extensive experience and knowledge of the inner workings of the Connecticut Department of Correction, including a number of years serving as a frontline correction officer,” Malloy said in a press release announcing the nomination, “gaining a broad familiarity on best practices in handling offenders and finding ways to reduce recidivism.”

Malloy said Semple has been “heavily involved” with enhancing supervision and treatment for the mental health prison population.

Semple was not available for comment. In the press release, he was quoted as saying he thanked both Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman for putting their confidence in him for the position.

“The state of Connecticut has made great strides in helping offenders successfully reintegrate into society and become productive citizens,” Semple said in the release. "I am eager to work with the governor, legislators and all stakeholders to continue to build on our progress.”

Norwich officials held another meeting with state probation, parole and corrections officials Tuesday on the eve of the governor’s announcement to receive updates on the residents in the Broad Street house and their supervision by parole and probation officers. Semple did not attend the meeting.

There are currently four residents in the REACH contracted house, three of whom are sex offenders. The program is not designated for sex offenders.

State officials told city officials at Tuesday’s meeting that eight sex offenders have cycled through the Broad Street house since the state contracted with Connections Inc. to operate four REACH beds there, and none of the eight have settled in Norwich after leaving the facility, said state Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, who attended the meeting.

Ryan, whose district includes a large section of Norwich, also welcomed Semple’s nomination. Ryan said he worked with Semple when he served as Department of Correction liaison to the state legislature.

“He has shown he’ll be able to work with us,” Ryan said.

Mayor Deberey Hinchey said Semple has been very responsive to the city’s concerns about sex offender housing and the request to meet with state officials on the issues.

“I think it was a good choice,” Hinchey said of the nomination. “He’s been very responsive to me and to Norwich,” Hinchey said. “He is working with us to try to figure out a very difficult problem, and he seems to be open to understanding the difficulty that goes on in the neighborhood.”

“We look forward to working with him and offer our congratulations,” City Manager Alan Bergren said. “It’s a tough issue, but all the municipalities are interested in working with the state on this issue.”

State Sen. Cathy Osten, a retired state corrections officer, said she has worked with Semple for many years in various capacities and supports the nomination. She said Semple places safety of corrections officers as a top priority, and is familiar with issues both within and outside the department.

Osten has spearheaded the local delegation’s response to the sex offender housing controversy and is working on several bills being submitted on the issue. One would introduce a tiered sex offender registry to better define severity of offenders’ crimes. A second bill would stiffen penalties on sex offenders convicted of assaulting minors or seniors.

Another bill in the works would require municipal leaders to be informed when sex offenders are placed in state-subsidized housing in their cities and towns. Osten said she hopes to use this bill to address restrictions on where those facilities could be located — prohibiting them from residential neighborhoods, for example.

Osten said Semple might not agree with all the proposals, but he told legislators he would examine the bills submitted and work with legislators.

“To me, it’s not for him to agree or disagree on legislation, but for us to pass and for him to enforce what we pass,” Osten said.

Another update meeting with Norwich officials is expected to be held in March. Semple and other state officials pledged to meet with Norwich leaders quarterly to discuss the issues. State Rep. Emmett Riley, D-Norwich, said that might be a good time to invite Semple to return to the city for the meeting.

“I think he is well qualified for the job, and we will continue to have a healthy working relationship,” Riley said. “I’d always like to have an open door with him.”

c.bessette@theday.com

Twitter: @Bessettetheday

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