Lamont continues focus on second chances with criminal justice recommendations

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Gov. Ned Lamont's budget recommendations for criminal justice agencies appear to follow the playbook of the previous administration, focusing on a reduction in crime, declining prison population and second chances for those who are already in the system.

Lamont recommends closing two housing units at the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, two cottage units at the Manson Youth Institute in Cheshire and a building at the Bridgeport Correctional Institute. The budget proposal released Wednesday indicates savings in the Department of Correction's recommended budget of $616 million for 2020 will be realized through a reduction in overtime and redeploying staff.

The state's prisons and jails held 13,228 inmates as of Jan. 1, and the Office of Policy and Management forecasts that the population will decline by about 310 prisoners over the coming year. The Department of Correction budget represents 7.2 percent of Connecticut's general fund spending, according to the biennial budget document released Wednesday morning.

Lamont's proposal for the department includes $2 million in 2020 and $6 million in 2021 to expand medication-assisted treatment for opioid withdrawal, an investment the governor asserts will provide a safer environment for correction officers and better chance of recovery for prisoners with opioid use disorders.

A spokesman for the Department of Correction, which has a new commissioner and senior management team, said he could not yet comment on the budget proposal.

Lamont is proposing allocating $92,520 in each of the next two years to the Department of Transportation for 60-day bus passes to people re-entering society upon release and $230,000 each year to provide state identification cards to people being released from prison.

100 troopers to be added

While the state's crime rate has declined, the number of state troopers has been reduced through attrition. The governor's proposed Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection budget of $188 million for 2020 authorizes $1.25 million to recruit, outfit and train a class of 100 new troopers. The proposal recommends a $4 million reduction in overtime expenditures for state police. The  administration recommends $68 million in funding for a new forensic science laboratory in 2021 and $10.6 million for construction of a new Eastern District state police headquarters.

The governor calls on criminal justice "stakeholders" to collaborate on strategies to reduce recidivism, or the chance that those released from prison will offend again, and focus efforts on reducing the number of people who are incarcerated for parole violations. The budget includes $250,000 to the Office of Public Defender Services to hire four lawyers to represent people accused of parole violations.

The governor recommends Judicial Branch expenditures of $516 million in 2020 and $533 million in 2021, noting anticipated wage adjustments and an increase from $6 to $10.50 for court-ordered drug testing. The budget reflects $3.6 million in savings as a result of a foreclosure-mediation program, established in 2008, that ends this year.

Judicial programs represent 3 percent of general government spending, according to the budget document.

The governor's budget also includes $8.9 million in capital funding for a criminal justice information system that enables prosecutors and other law enforcement authorities to share information electronically; $86,000 to the Department of Correction for a counselor to work with youth in custody who are at risk of suicide; and $75,000 for training of correction officers and staff to provide developmentally appropriate programs, services and behavioral management to the juvenile prison population.

k.florin@theday.com

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