By Alex Putterman via CT Insider
People incarcerated in Connecticut come mostly from large cities, new data shows, though nearly every town in the state has at least some portion of its population in jail or prison.
According to a report released this week by the Prison Policy Initiative, more than half of those incarcerated in Connecticut are residents of Hartford, Waterbury, Bridgeport, New Haven, New Britain and New London — six cities that account for only 17 percent of the state’s total population as of the 2020 census.
In some urban areas, nearly 2 percent of all residents were incarcerated, compared to less than 0.1 percent in many suburban and rural zip codes.
Mike Wessler, communications director for the Prison Policy Institute, said the Massachusetts-based group hoped the new data would demonstrate the scope of mass incarceration in certain communities, particularly those with large Black and Latino populations.
“When you’re taking 2 percent of a community’s population and shipping it off to another part of our state and putting it behind bars, that leaves behind a wake of devastation, where there are families that don’t have emotional support that they previously had or economic support that they previously had,” he said.
Wessler noted not only disparities from one city to the next but also within cities. In Hartford, for example, the West Albany neighborhood has an incarceration rate nearly four times that of the West End.
“The main thing that stood out to me when I when I was looking at these numbers is just the neighborhood-level disparity,” Wessler said. “There are certain areas that have dramatically dramatically, dramatically higher incarceration rates than other neighborhoods that are just a few blocks away.”
Though it has long been evident that cities account for a disproportionate number of people charged with and convicted of crimes in Connecticut, a geographic breakdown of those currently incarcerated became possible only recently, thanks to a 2021 law requiring that people in jails and prisons be counted as residents of the town or city they are from, not the ones where they are locked up.
Lorenzo Jones, co-founder of the Hartford-based Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said he was disappointed to see that racial and geographic disparities in incarceration have not diminished in recent years, despite criminal justice reform efforts.
As Jones sees it, what drives these disparities “is hyper-enforcement, is public policy, is a knee-jerk reaction to issues that are actually public-health issues,” such as drug use.
“The drug war, draconian drug policies follow poor people,” Jones said. “People don’t become poor because they’re in the system, usually people are more likely to end up in the system because they are living in poverty.”
Though there’s no question incarceration is most common in Connecticut’s cities, Wessler noted that it’s not specifically an phenomenon. Of 277 zip codes in Connecticut, all but 28 were home to at least one incarcerated person, Prison Policy Initiative’s report found.
Even for suburban and rural residents, Wessler said, “mass incarceration is something that is felt in their backyards.”
“We thought it was important to show that it’s not just the big cities, that smaller communities feel a burden that is similar to those of the big cities,” he said. “Mass incarceration is often driven by issues related to poverty, substance use, and mental health challenges, and smaller communities are facing these problems as well.”