by Grace Merritt
New Haven - After spending years chipping away at it, Connecticut has reduced its recidivism rate to 41 percent, down from 47 percent in 2007.
“Six points is a significant drop and makes all the difference to their families,” said William Carbone, executive director of the Judicial Branch Court Support Services Division.
The success gave Carbone and other Connecticut criminal justice leaders bragging rights Wednesday during a symposium on how states can reduce recidivism rates in a time of surging – and costly – prison populations.
During the day-long event at the elegant New Haven Lawn Club, experts from Connecticut, Chicago and New York outlined key strategies they have used to better help ex-offenders prepare for and get jobs, get mental health and addiction treatment and generally return to everyday life without ending up back in prison.
Carbone said Connecticut has been working for years to address recidivism. Among the many steps the state has taken is increasing the ratio of parole officers from 1 for every 250 ex-offenders to 1 for every 48, he said. This allows the parole officers to better deal with the complexities of each case.
The state has also worked with Yale University to train parole officers to better engage with clients and build trust.
Connecticut also takes a holistic approach to assess clients needs and then works collaboratively with other agencies, such as the Department of Social Services, to help them enroll in a state health insurance plan and take advantage of other services to help bridge the gap, he said.
To measure effectiveness and improve accountability, the state also closely tracks results from their efforts, he said.
“I think we are moving in exactly the right direction in our state,” Carbone said.
The symposium was hosted by the city of New Haven’s Prison Reentry Initiative, an outreach program that provides support and referrals to help ex-offenders get on their feet and lessen the chance that they’ll return to crime.
The symposium’s keynote speaker, Diane Williams, president and CEO of the Safer Foundation in Chicago, shared steps her organization has taken to help 4,000 ex-offenders a year get jobs.
She said the foundation evaluates clients, assessing whether they are even ready for work, preparing them for work and then helping them find a job. Her agency works with 43 contracts and grants to assist clients, including helping them get their GED, improve their literacy and even help them land scholarships to 2- and 4-year colleges.
“Nothing works stand alone. It’s always having the right service, at the right level – if you will – at the right point in time, at the right place for the right person,” Williams said.
John Padilla, principal of New Paradigms Consulting who moderated a panel on national policies, said that despite public opinion, there is no concrete evidence that employment itself reduces recidivism. However, there is some connection since 7 out of every 10 people are unemployed at the time of they committed their crime, he said.
Various studies suggest that one also has to address ex-offenders’ anti-social attitudes and get them to decide to live more pro-social lives, he said.
During the symposium, David D’Amora, division director of National Initiatives for the Council of State Governments Justice Center, said new research shows that states need to focus on higher-risk individuals to address recidivism and need to put together the right package of services customized for each client.
“It’s important that we help them get meaningful work that pays living wages,” he said.