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Correction nominee Semple outlines initiatives at confirmation hearing

Hartford — Scott Semple, a career employee who is poised to become the commissioner of the state Department of Correction, outlined four major initiatives geared at helping offenders succeed in the community at a confirmation hearing Tuesday before a joint committee of lawmakers.

Senate members of the General Assembly’s Executive and Legislative Nomination Committee later voted unanimously to confirm Semple. The nomination now moves on to the full Senate.

Semple said the DOC next month is launching a centralized community release unit to enable a more seamless and consistent approach to releasing prisoners back into the community. The department is transforming a portion of the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield into a 600-bed Re-Integration Unit to help prepare inmates for release.

Additionally, Semple said, DOC is realigning the way inmates earn time off their sentences under the 2011 Risk Reduction Earned Credit law so that offenders at higher security levels would not receive the same benefits — as much as five days a month off their sentences — as those who are classified at lower risk levels. Semple said the agency is reorganizing the supervision of paroled prisoners with an increased focus on workforce preparation.

The initiatives are a key component of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed Second Chance Society policy of helping offenders become productive citizens.

The 52-year-old Watertown resident, who started his career as a front-line correction officer in 1988, has been serving as acting commissioner of the department that runs the state’s 18 prisons since James E. Dzurenda’s retirement in August. He introduced the committee to his wife, Christa, who he joked aspires to become “The First Lady of Corrections,” and in a more somber tone told the committee of the loss of their 15-year-old son, Matthew, who died of cancer on Jan. 1.

Semple said he is grateful for the support he received from his colleagues and honored for the opportunity to lead the department he cherishes.

“My son put it best when he told me, ‘Go be a boss,’ ’’ Semple told the committee. He wore his son’s striped school necktie to the hearing to honor Matthew.

Semple’s rise through the ranks included overseeing training and staff development, serving as the department’s spokesman and legislative liaison, transforming the Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown into a model facility for inmates with mental health issues and serving as warden at Garner. He was promoted to deputy commissioner of operations and rehabilitative services in 2013.

Semple’s salary is $167,500 per year plus benefits.

Committee members questioned Semple on a wide range of topics, from use of excessive force to prisoners with mental health issues, and told him they appreciate the breadth of experience that comes with his 25 years in the department.

“Congratulations,” said Senate President Martin M. Looney, a Democrat from New Haven. “You have literally come up through the ranks and have been successful at every level.”

Under a proposed budget unveiled last week by Malloy, Semple’s department of 5,805 employees would have an $810 million budget and would assume adult probation services and the alternative incarceration program, a total of 753 additional positions, from the Judicial Branch’s Court Support Services Division.

Semple had cordially greeted the Judicial Branch’s chief court administrator, Judge Patrick L. Carroll, before the hearing began and said the department “leans heavily” on the Court Support Services Division and that he has made it clear their good relationship would continue.

“Whatever the will of the legislature is, we will plan on moving the agency in that direction,” Semple said.

k.florin@theday.com

Twitter: @Kflorin

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