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RELEASE: New Report Outlines How Connecticut’s Excessive Use of Probation and Parole Are Drivers of Incarceration

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Katal Center Equity, Health, and Justice 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2023

Contact:  Yonah Zeitz, yonah@katalcenter.org | (347) 201-2768

Follow on socials: @KatalCenter | #FixProbationCT #FixParoleCT

New Report: Nearly 35,000 People in Connecticut – Disproportionately People of Color and Low-Income People– are on Probation and Parole, Nearly 3-Times the Number of People Incarcerated in State Jails and Prisons

Noncriminal “Technical” Violations of Probation and Parole- Such as Missing Curfew or Addiction Relapse – are Drivers of Incarceration in Connecticut, With Devastating Consequences for Those Impacted 

Report Outlines Recommendations For Fixing Probation and Parole; Impacted Residents and Advocates Call for Urgent Action by State Legislature and Governor Lamont 

HARTFORD, CT: A new report released today by the Katal Center and the Prison Policy Initiative outlines how Connecticut’s use of community corrections, including its aggressive use of probation, is a driver of incarceration in the state and often traps people, disproportionately people of color and low income people, in the correctional system. 

Compared with other states, Connecticut has a relatively low incarceration rate, thanks to decades of work by community groups, advocates, and lawmakers. But the new report, “Excessive, Unjust, and Expensive: Fixing Connecticut’s Probation and Parole Problems”, looks at the full system of correctional control – incarceration, probation, and parole – and the findings are troubling. When looking at the big picture, Connecticut has a mass punishment rate that is even higher than conservative states like Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Utah.

In the United States, where mass incarceration is widespread, the number of people under the surveillance of probation and parole systems is nearly twice the number of those behind bars. In Connecticut, it’s even higher – nearly three times as many people are on probation and parole as are incarcerated in state prisons and jails. In Connecticut today, nearly 35,000 people are under probation or parole. Of that number, more than 30,000 people statewide – almost 1% of the entire population — are on probation in our state.

Noncriminal “technical” violations of probation and parole — like missing a curfew or testing positive for alcohol or other drug use — are known drivers of incarceration in Connecticut, putting hundreds and hundreds of people in cages every year. Incarceration of even a few days, let alone weeks, is catastrophic – people can lose their jobs, housing, custody of their children, and more.  Due to systemic racism, people of color are disproportionately on probation and parole.

Probation in particular is aggressively used in Connecticut and often comes with onerous fees and other burdens that make it difficult for people to succeed. Complying with court-ordered conditions of probation is practically a full-time job: Connecticut statute lists many “standard” conditions a judge can impose, including maintaining work or a course of study, undergoing treatment or counseling, meeting family obligations, and nebulous “other conditions”.  And people released from prison to parole supervision often struggle to rebuild their lives during the reentry process. Re-incarceration for noncriminal technical violations is catastrophic for people on parole. Over one-third of prison admissions statewide are the result of people on parole being re-incarcerated – a significant number of them for noncriminal “technical” violations.

Keeping communities of color and low-income communities under the surveillance of the criminal legal system via probation almost guarantees that people will end up incarcerated, re-incarcerated, or perpetually struggling to make ends meet.

Most community supervision does not contribute to public safety. The report argues that probation and parole populations can and must be reduced, while steps must be taken to make community supervision more fair, just, and supportive. Specific recommendations from the report include:

  • Restrict the use of incarceration for verified noncriminal “technical” violations. 
  • Eliminate automatic detention for noncriminal “technical” violations. 
  • Apply earned time credit to supervision sentences. 
  • Bolster due process for those accused of technical violations of probation and parole.

Quotes from report co-authors, impacted Katal members and community residents, and lawmakers:

gabriel sayegh, co-author and Co-Executive Director of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “Over the last 20 years, and thanks to the dedicated work of community groups, advocates, and sensible lawmakers, Connecticut has made strides in significantly reducing jail and prison populations while strengthening public safety. But our report highlights a hard truth about Connecticut – as the jail and prison population has gone down, the state’s probation system has grown too big, too punitive, and is too often a pipeline to incarceration instead of an alternative to it. And with parole, the state is often setting people up to fail, not helping them succeed at reentry. Most community supervision does not contribute to public safety, so why is it in such widespread use today in Connecticut? In particular, communities of color and low income communities in the state are disproportionately impacted by probation and parole. The number of people subject to probation can and must be reduced, and the parole system made more fair and supportive for those coming home from prison. We urge the state legislature and governor to take immediate action by adopting the recommendations outlined in this report.

Leah Wang, report co-author and Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative, said: “Nationally, 3.7 million people are on probation and parole supervision. These forms of community supervision are major drivers of mass incarceration and account for over 40% of all prison admissions each year. Connecticut is no different. 1 in 3 admissions to prison in the state is for a violation of supervision — many of which are noncriminal “technical” violations such as missing an appointment with a parole officer or failing to pay one of several supervision-related fees. This practice, even if it is a mere accusation, costs people their jobs and homes. Connecticut has a unique opportunity to continue leading the nation in criminal justice reform by overhauling its probation and parole systems. This report outlines four reforms that would quickly and dramatically improve people’s re-entry process and shrink the number of people under community supervision. We urge Governor Lamont and the state legislature to act on these recommendations to reduce the scope of community supervision and thus reduce the state’s use of incarceration.”

Chief Deputy Majority Leader and Chair of Judiciary Committee, Senator Gary Winfield (D-New Haven), said: “The work of Katal and the Prison Policy Initiative to produce this report is important. What the report demonstrates is that community supervision – probation and parole — has seen enormous growth in Connecticut. The impact for the more than 30,000 people on probation and parole in Connecticut, that’s nearly three times the number of people incarcerated in our state, is real and often devastating. This report details how noncriminal technical violations of community supervision too often lead to incarceration, and highlights the disproportionate impact on low-income communities and communities of color. Often public safety is not increased by these violations. While Connecticut has made great strides in criminal justice reform by reducing prison populations and strengthening public safety we should be paying close attention to this report and its recommendations if we are concerned about making sure our system works for all.”

Deputy Speaker of the House,  Representative Josh Elliot (D-Hamond), said: “I applaud the work the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice is doing to help the state of Connecticut address the needs of our incarcerated population, which is largely comprised of individuals with mental health needs. I firmly stand behind the proposed changes to our parole and probation system that Katal is advocating for. Katal’s passion, data, and action-oriented plan to protect communities from unfair incarceration are some of the most forward-thinking ideas on the table. We need to develop new pathways to help rebuild the lives of those who were incarcerated and empower them to becoming productive members of society.”

Alize Alvaraado, a Hartford-based member of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “I have been on parole and probation since I was 21 years old. I was sent back to prison for dirty urine multiple times, once for 30 days, and following this was mandated to an outpatient program. What dictates whether I am sent to prison or a rehab program? Instead of providing me with the rehabilitation and programs I needed, I was sent back to prison multiple times awaiting substance abuse treatment. This affected the job I already had due to the change of time for the mandated program.  They held me for 3 months after telling me I would be in for 1 month. This affected me mentally and my relationships with my loved ones.  Changes within the parole and probation system, like those outlined in this report, are needed to reduce recidivism and re-incarceration.”

Renee Restivo, a Winsted-based member of the Katal Center for Equity Health, and Justice, said: “I have been involved with DOC, parole, and probation since the age of 12 and now at 37, am a college graduate. I have seen how women and juveniles are more disadvantaged when they are connected to the carceral system, less half-way houses and places for youth. No healthcare, no education, no support, but most people are in need of these resources: affordable housing, food, education, and healthcare. There’s less women who have the opportunity to come home on parole due to the lack of community support. When they do come on parole, the sanctions that they impose on the women are impossible to fulfill without technical difficulties and possible violations that lead to re-incarceration and higher rates of recidivism. We as a community,  can’t expect people to live off of the circumstances of parole. Being a felon since I was 19 years old,  I can say no real place will hire you. Although I have no connection to any of the things I did as a juvenile, it follows me and countless others. We already paid our time in prison, now we come home on parole and the only options are to work at minimum wage jobs that don’t provide you enough income to survive. Families involved in the system find themselves later surveilled by the probation and parole systems. The report released today makes clear that instead of throwing families into detention centers and prisons, Connecticut must provide families with support for stable housing, employment, and medical care.”

Barbara Fair, New Haven-based organizer with Stop Solitary CT said: Connecticut parole and probation with its many ways to keep people cycling in and out of prison devours the lives of countless residents. It goes without saying mostly African American and Latinx people suffer the consequences of these unjust and subjective practices. Technical violations such as “dirty urines” and missing appointments have served and continue to serve as a revolving door for those who have faced the misfortune of ending up in Connecticut’s jails, prisons and alternative programs.  It’s time to end all state sanctioned abusive practices and get back to the business of corrections and rehabilitation or change the Department of Corrections name and mission statement to reflect its true nature. The State Legislature and governor must immediately move to implement the recommendations outlined within this report.”

Tiheba Bain, Founder and Executive Director of Women Against Mass Incarceration, said: “At Women Against Mass Incarceration, we work every day to empower women, girls, and families who have been impacted by mass incarceration, criminalization, poverty, and trauma. And every day, we see and experience what this new report shows: the community supervision system in Connecticut is far too big and is causing harm, particularly to Black communities and other communities of color and to low income people in our state. We know that probation and parole too often serve as a pipeline to incarceration and further marginalization.  This report outlines action steps lawmakers should take immediately to fix probation and parole in Connecticut.”

Natasha Luyanda, resident of New Britain, said: “Being on parole held me back from pursuing my dream to have a career  and getting my education. In order for me to get my education I had to stay in prison. While on parole I couldn’t pursue my education, I could get certificates for specific jobs but no one would hire me because I had a felony, despite me paying my restitution and doing everything I needed to. 17 years after finishing my parole and I finally found a job that isn’t minimum wage. My mother-in-inlaw is currently on parole, she has an active drinking problem. Instead of her parole officer helping her find a mental health program, there’s a possibility they will violate her parole and mandate her to prison. There is no avenue for treatment for her, despite her doctors who have told us she needs mental health and substance abuse treatment. The Dept of Correction would rather put her in prison, which in my opinion makes it worse.  Now my mother-in-inlaw is tied to this system, an older woman who’s experiencing a mental health crisis can’t get the help she needs, but they will throw her in prison, and to me that’s insane. That’s why lawmakers must take action now to adopt the recommendations within this report.” 

Ernest Francis, resident of Hartford said: “We need to be more proactive in the reentry process and take reasonable measures to assure the success of our returning citizens and those who are on probation. In today’s technological society, where we have the capabilities to connect through video, there appears to be no good reason why returning citizens cannot report to their probation & parole officers via zoom. This one act is not only consistent with public safety but will allow system-involved people to keep their much needed jobs, which are often compromised as a result of over-reporting to community supervision. Parole needs to be a helpful tool for re-entry, not something that leads to re-incarceration and recidivism. And probation should be an alternative to incarceration, not a pathway leading to incarceration. Lawmakers must carefully study this report and move immediately to enact its recommendations, which will make Connecticut more fair, safe, and just.” 

Maribel Rodriguez, community organizer with the Katal Center, said: “Our new report highlights the harms caused by the probation and parole system in Connecticut. Katal members know firsthand how the excessive and overly punitive community correction system is a major driver of incarceration in our state. Probation in particular traps people in cycles of incarceration and due to systemic racism our Black, brown, and low communities get the brunt of this failed public safety approach. Right now, over 30,000 people in our state are subjected to excessive fees and community corrections stipulations that far too often disrupt their ability to secure housing, health care, education, and jobs. It’s time for Connecticut to shift its approach by moving away from its reliance on mass surveillance and mass punishment and towards a system that is just and supportive. We urge Governor Lamont and state lawmakers to enact the recommendation outlined in this report. Reduce the state’s probation and parole population. Make the system more just and equitable so everyone in the state can thrive and sustain themselves.”

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