The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Advocates urge Lamont to prioritize reentry into society for incarcerat­ed

- By Jaden Edison

Standing directly in front of a poster depicting an empty hallway of prison cells, Virgilio Rosario peered into the crowd through his tinted eyeglasses Wednesday and proclaimed that he wanted to “change the paradigm” of what it means to be formerly incarcerat­ed.

“When a person gets out of prison, they don’t have a family, they’ve been totally disconnect­ed — not just from family — coming home to nothing,” he said, facing a line of cameras and microphone­s during a press conference at the Legislativ­e Office Building in Hartford. “Then you got people in society that are gonna judge them based on what they did before they went to prison. They never took the time to try and invest a little bit to get to know this person.”

Rosario, who is the brother of Rep. Christophe­r Rosario, D-Bridgeport, was among several formerly incarcerat­ed people, advocates and legislator­s who came together Wednesday to urge Gov. Ned Lamont to support the reallocati­on of funds saved from the closure of Willard Correction­al Institutio­n to resources for people being released from the state’s prisons.

Closing Willard will save the state approximat­ely $6.5 million annually, and supporters said they’re hopeful that at least a portion of those funds will go toward helping those leaving prison — who are overwhelmi­ngly people of color trying to get reacclimat­ed to society, specifical­ly in areas such as mental health, employment, education and housing. They did not specify how much of the funding was needed.

According to a “State of Reentry” report discussed at the press conference Wednesday, in June 2022, Black and Hispanic residents made up a combined 63% of incarcerat­ed people whose sentences would end in six months.

Half of the people whose sentences would end had substance use scores of “serious,” the highest score possible. Sixty two percent of them hadn’t attained a high school diploma, while most of them had less than five years of employment history or vocational training.

Legislator­s said the data make clear exactly where the state needs to direct its resources and can best help the people transition­ing back into their lives outside of prison — but to make that happen, Rep. Rosario said, the governor also has to agree.

“Those funds need to go where they need to go. Just like in student education, the money follows the child, I think that the money needs to follow that reentry citizen,” said Rep. Rosario, who also serves on the legislativ­e committee that handles matters pertaining to the state budget.

David Bednarz, press secretary for Lamont’s office, told the CT Mirror that the governor backs the reallocati­on of the prison closure funds to resources that will help all Connecticu­t residents.

“Gov. Lamont supports

“For me as a legislator, this is not a party issue. … We have a responsibi­lity to create an environmen­t and ecosystem for every individual to succeed.” State Sen. Tony Hwang

increasing investment­s for employment services, housing and education, including for those who are formerly incarcerat­ed,” Bednarz said, “and that’s why his proposed budget increases state funding in each of these areas.”

Lamont’s budget proposal, released last week, highlighte­d the need to invest in incarcerat­ed people and their needs. But in a press conference held after the governor’s proposal, his administra­tion didn’t commit to any specific plan that would prioritize reentry, aside from stating that the $6.5 million saved from closing Willard can be reinvested into other areas.

The push for more funding for reentry efforts comes less than a month after the state announced the closure of Willard. The Enfield prison joined Radgowski Correction­al Center and Northern Correction­al Institutio­n on the list of state correction­al facilities that have shuttered operations since 2021 due to a shrinking prison population.

The three closures combined will save the state more than $26 million annually.

Department of Correction Commission­er Angel Quiros, who was nominated for a second term Tuesday and attended the press conference Wednesday, told the CT Mirror that he supports efforts to assist the reentry community but acknowledg­ed that he has no say in where the funds end up.

Sen. Tony Hwang, DFairfield, who also attended and spoke at the event, said it was important for people reentering their communitie­s after prison to have access to resources, because “unless you create a new environmen­t, we’re creating a return to that same behavior.”

“It’s about increased productivi­ty, increased jobs, but also an increased contributi­on to our society. There is no tangible dollar and cents to it,” Hwang said. “For me as a legislator, this is not a party issue. … We have a responsibi­lity to create an environmen­t and ecosystem for every individual to succeed.”

Rep. Robyn Porter, DNew Haven, called it an “obligation” to support people reentering their communitie­s.

“We need to center humanity when we talk about the Department of Correction, people who are incarcerat­ed, good people who have made some poor choices and some not so good people, let’s be honest,” Porter said. “What I will say is: Let’s rehabilita­te the person in the way we want them to go so that they don’t recidivate.”

Virgilio Rosario said he now owns a business, employs people and is changing his community along the way. Before leaving the podium, he proudly shouted out the people in attendance who helped him get to this point — and restated the need to help other Connecticu­t residents succeed after they spend time behind bars.

“This money from all these prisons, and then excess money that’s sitting around that’s already here, should be allocated to the true direct services, needs of people,” he said. “People shouldn’t have to come home to fill out an applicatio­n. They should come home trained and ready to work right out of prison.”

 ?? Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? State Sen. Tony Hwang, of Fairfield
Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticu­t Media State Sen. Tony Hwang, of Fairfield

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