Partnership to help inmates re-enter New London community

New London — Operating at no cost, a new partnership between the city and the state Department of Correction aims to connect former inmates with stable housing in an effort to reduce recidivism.

While it’s far from the first initiative to focus on reintegrating inmates into their communities, it is the first that’s New London-centric, according to DOC spokeswoman Karen Martucci. The DOC, she explained, has begun identifying inmates with a demonstrated connection to New London. It's keeping the city abreast of when those individuals will be released from state custody.

The DOC also has agreed to give the city access to the inmates while they’re still in custody, enabling something the DOC calls “in-reach.”

In-reach, Martucci said, “builds a level of trust and some familiarity” for offenders. It can make them more likely to take advantage of services available to them, whether in the realm of housing, food, health or otherwise.

“There’s a level of apprehension for offenders to walk into some of these places and look for help,” Martucci said. “It’s helpful for our agency and for the city to get folks on their feet.”

For now, Ellen Crichton, an unpaid intern from the University of Connecticut, is the one who will be getting face time with the about 10 relevant inmates. That’s according to LeeAnn Page, a clinical consultant for the New London Homeless Hospitality Center who is supervising Crichton.

Page said Crichton, a final-year master’s student at UConn’s School of Social Work, spent much of her first semester on the gig aligning the players — the city, the hospitality center, the DOC and the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.

“Ellen has been fabulous in terms of bringing our efforts together and saying we’re all going in this direction,” Page said. “Basically, we want to address re-entry from a Housing First approach.”

In other words, the city wants newly released city residents to have access to safe housing without significant barriers. It’s a model the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development prefers. And research has shown a lack of stable housing increases recidivism, or the tendency of a convict to reoffend.

Now that she has cleared the necessary hurdles, Crichton next semester will begin visiting York Correctional Institution in East Lyme and the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Montville. It’s not yet clear how frequently she’ll visit as part of her internship, or how many inmates she’ll see during each visit. But the hope is she’ll be able to identify the needs of individual inmates and they’ll come to trust her guidance before they return to the city.

“There’s a million reasons why this is important, one being that the stress of transitioning from DOC custody back into the community is really high,” Page said. “Individuals who are in that re-entry process are vulnerable. The more support we can offer at that time, the more we will all benefit.”

For the foreseeable future, the program will remain one that is staffed by an unpaid intern and run with the help of employees like Page and city Human Services Director Jeanne Milstein. But Page said Crichton has been filling out grant applications with the goal of eventual expansion.

Milstein said city officials will be keeping track of the outcomes of those who participate in the program. Though housing is a focus, other services also will be stressed. Inmates with substance use disorders, for example, will be taught how to access medication-assisted treatment such as Suboxone, which reduces the symptoms of withdrawal. Inmates who may have trouble obtaining a job — a reality for many convicts — will learn where to get extra training.

Because of York and Corrigan-Radgowski's proximity to New London, it’s not unusual when an inmate, released to another town, opts to head to New London — and it's something the DOC can’t control. But this new program, Milstein stressed, is devoting its resources solely to offenders who were living in the city before they were sentenced.

“What we’re doing is we’re working very collaboratively with the DOC to make sure that people who are from New London, who will be returning to New London when they finish their sentences, have a plan for transition and re-entry that is developed very early on in their prison sentence,” she said. “These folks are coming here anyway. That’s why we want to be prepared.”


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