Building Bridges: Reframed

Michelle Alexander’s seminal work, The New Jim Crow, lays bare the intersection of race, social control, and mass incarceration in the US. This conference follows Alexander’s CCSU discussion the previous evening (watch here) by challenging the underlying framework of the criminal justice system here in Connecticut and nationwide.

Session Descriptions

Keynote Address: Shihani Ghazi

Shihani Ghazi is currently a senior at Central Connecticut State University. She is a Psychological Science Major and Sociology Minor. She is a member of the Psi Chi International Honor Society in Psychology and the Golden Key International Honor Society. On campus, she is currently President of the Black Student Union, and a Resident Assistant for Barrows Hall. Through her leadership positions on campus, Shihani is currently working alongside the university’s administrators to implement more programs containing a curriculum that includes the topic of diversity and social justice training. She believes that these programs are essential to not only the students’ transitional experience into college, but into the world. Shihani’s aspiration after graduation is to use her career field to promote social change and deconstruct social injustices.

10:00am Sessions

Panel 1 – Opioids: Treating an Illness, Ending A War The Sentencing Project recently released a report after which this panel is named. From the report’s Executive Summary: “More people died from opioid-related deaths in 2015 than in any previous year. Unlike the heroin and crack crises of the past, the current opioid emergency has disproportionately affected white Americans – poor and rural, but also middle class and suburban. This association has boosted support for preventative and treatment-based policy solutions. But the pace of the response has been slow, critical components of the solution…face resistance, and there are growing efforts to revamp the failed and costly War on Drugs.”

Panel 2 - Beyond the Data: The Other 46% – Measuring Successful Community Reintegration By More Than Just Numbers Building Bridges 2018 As the United States continues to incarcerate more people than any other developed nation at near-prohibitively excessive costs, with mixed results at best, criminal justice reform advocates, policy makers and affected citizens continue to struggle to figure out what success actually looks like for state and federal governments, returning citizens, and the communities they return to.

According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, “at least 95% of all state prisoners will be released from prison at some point; nearly 80% will be released to parole supervision.” The success of these returning citizens is currently measured by rates of recidivism, which the Connecticut Criminal Justice Policy & Planning Division determined in 2008 after tracking a cohort of 16,286 formerly incarcerated persons that 54% of all those released returned to prison within a three-year period. The question of whether or not we are appropriately measuring success post-incarceration becomes glaringly clear.

What are the other 46% doing to avoid prison? Can this group truly be considered successful? Are current Judicial Branch and/or Department of Correction mandated stipulations effective tools in keeping this group out of prison; and if so, why haven’t they worked for the majority of returnees who eventually recidivate?

As a performance measure, recidivism alone appears to be moderately effective, showing a reduction of nearly half in the return to prison of the 2008 control group. But what is the data missing? Are there tactics, tools, and measures that successful returnees are employing that can be woven into Connecticut’s public policies to improve the lives and promote the reintegration and success of returning citizens and our communities?

This panel went beyond the data, highlighting instead the stories and anecdotes of the actual experience of formerly incarcerated persons and what they’ve done to remain successful. In addition, criminal justice experts discussed how they measure success and and how we can move forward as a state to create truly comprehensive reintegration strategies and measures that are based on more than just recidivism.

 11:30am Sessions

Panel 1 – 21st Century Policing In 2015, President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing published its final report which included recommendations to improve policing in the United States in six main areas (called pillars in the report): (1) building trust and legitimacy, (2) policy and oversight, (3) community policing and crime reduction, (4) training and education, (5) technology and social media, and (6) officer wellness and safety. As stated in the report, “trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential in a democracy. It is key to the stability of our communities, the integrity of our criminal justice system, and the safe and effective delivery of policing services.”

Connecticut has been a national leader in addressing policing issues and is working to increase trust between the public and law enforcement. Connecticut has taken a data-driven approach to understanding racial disparities in policing, allowing the conversation to move beyond anecdotal and position-based views. An atmosphere of open-mindedness, empathy, and honesty remains necessary to successfully engage in a conversation about how to ensure fairness in the criminal justice system that will ultimately lead to sustained police legitimacy and a safer, more just society. This panel explored how Connecticut can build on the efforts already underway in this state and use the President’s 21st Century Task Force on Policing as a roadmap for success.

Panel 2 – The Human Face of Bail: Money Bail Punishes Those who Are Poor, but What’s the Alternative? Speaking at the 1964 National Conference on Bail and Criminal Justice, Attorney General Robert Kennedy concluded: What has been made clear today, in the last two days, is that our present attitudes toward bail are not only cruel, but really completely illogical. What has been demonstrated here is that usually only one factor determines whether a defendant stays in jail before he comes to trial. That factor is not guilt or innocence. It is not the nature of the crime. It is not the character of the defendant. That factor is, simply, money. How much money does the defendant have?

Not much has changed since that day in 1964. Today there are 443,000 people who have not been convicted of a crime sitting in America’s jails awaiting trial – most for the simple fact that they do not have the money to secure their freedom. Many stakeholders, practitioners, and researchers agree that it is unconstitutional, immoral, and ineffective to have two justice systems: one for the rich and one for the poor; but what’s the alternative? How do we create a pretrial justice system that truly focuses on the safety of the public, but does not devastate hundreds of thousands of individuals and their families every year?

Panel 3 – On the Outside/Life on Parole (OTO) In 2014, Purple States and DCTV began to develop the idea of a multi-platform, short- and long-form documentary that would bring the reentry experience to life through the stories of an “ordinary” and representative group of prisoners – not the extreme cases always in the public eye. Highlighting Connecticut’s commitment to transparency, they were able to gain unprecedented access to these stories. In the spring of 2015, a process of rolling recruitment began, and in the fall of 2015, filming started. What follows is the documentation of 12 individuals’ experiences, following their trajectories wherever they’ve led. In July 2017, PBS Frontline premiered a documentary entitled Life on Parole highlighting four of these individuals. The New York Times, under the title “On the Outside,” produced several corresponding videos and written media stories.

Beginning in October 2017, through a collaboration with Purple States, DCTV, the Kellogg Foundation, and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, the IMRP at CCSU began an education campaign utilizing the On the Outside/Life on Parole media. Intended to combat limited public awareness of the realities that impede successful reentry, this project adds accuracy and complexity to the issue. We hope OTO will inform thought leaders and policymakers, and provoke an honest conversation about the impact of prison on the futures of inmates and their children.

This session looked at the OTO film clips from the New York Times and engaged in a moderated conversation with the documentary’s producer, parole professionals and those who have experienced the criminal justice system and parole.

All media can be found here:

2:00pm Sessions

Panel - Re-Entry: A Pathway to Success into a Welcoming Community At the 2014 Building Bridges conference, Vera Institute’s Sara Sullivan described the “European-American Prison Project” – where select individuals were exposed to alternative approaches to incarceration in European countries. By the end of the next year, DOC Commissioner Scott Semple and Governor Dannel Malloy had traveled to Germany with another select group of individuals to get their own first-hand view of these alternative systems under Vera’s aptly named, “Reimaging Prison” project. Upon their return, both expressed a change in perspective and a commitment to implementing changes in Connecticut as a result.

This panel explored some of those changes within DOC, including a look at the one-year anniversary of the T.R.U.E unit for 18- to 25-year-olds. It also asked the question, “How do these changes reflect the transition of those on the inside to their new life on the outside?” This question was viewed through the lens of the Greater Hartford Reentry Center Plan and the current process to develop a welcome center for returning citizens, which is slated to begin operation this summer. Also informing the conversation was the recent “Hope for Success” report by the Commission on Equity and Opportunity, as championed by Rep. Brandon McGee.

Breakout – Youth Voices The Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance told the story about how the development and use of a recent short film, Wonder of a Woman, exemplifies Alliance efforts to center its work in the voices of those with first and secondhand system experience. Presenters included Alliance staff and Justice Advisors.

 Next Steps with Andrew Clark and Bill Dyson