Livestream prison re­form con­fer­ence

Broad­cast from in­side Cheshire Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Clarice Sil­ber CT MIR­ROR

CHESHIRE — Stand­ing in­side a cen­tury-old max­i­mum se­cu­rity prison au­di­to­rium as cam­eras livestreamed a con­fer­ence on Con­necti­cut’s prison sys­tem re­forms Wed­nes­day, Corrections Com­mis­sioner Scott Sem­ple told those as­sem­bled that the event re­minded him of watch­ing the rip­ple ef­fect from throw­ing a stone in a still pond.

Sem­ple said the thought of hav­ing a livestream simul­cast from in­side a prison was some­thing he couldn’t have imag­ined even a few years ago.

“To­day is essen­tially an elec­tronic ver­sion of that rip­ple ef­fect,” Sem­ple said. “I think of it as the elec­tronic rip­ple ef­fect of cu­mu­la­tive change … over time, ever ex­pand­ing, cre­at­ing rip­ples and waves of change.”

The livestream broad­cast from in­side the Cheshire Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion was trans­mit­ted to the John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice, where Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy joined ad­vo­cates and ex­perts from the Vera In­sti­tute of Jus­tice, a crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form group, for its Reimag­in­ing Prison con­fer­ence.

Mal­loy said tour­ing pris­ons in Ger­many with Sem­ple in 2015 was one of the rea­sons he has em­braced crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form.

The gov­er­nor said that trip demon­strated how dif­fer­ent the Ger­man cor­rec­tion sys­tem is from that in the

U.S. be­cause they view prison as “an op­por­tu­nity for change and we sim­ply tend to look at prison as a pun­ish­ment ve­hi­cle and we should ex­act the high­est pos­si­ble price.

“If we could change that dy­namic in the United States, then we would have less crime, lower rates of re­cidi­vism and we could re­ally turn lives around,” Mal­loy said.

Mal­loy, who has made crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form a cor­ner­stone of his agenda dur­ing his nearly eight years in of­fice, has won pas­sage of laws re­form­ing the bail sys­tem, de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing mar­i­juana and re­peal­ing manda­tory sen­tenc­ing for drug-pos­ses­sion crimes.

Con­necti­cut’s re­cidi­vism rates have de­creased steadily, and state crime rates have fallen steadily in the past few years as part of decades of de­cline na­tion­wide. The state also has seen one of the sharpest de­clines in vi­o­lent crime in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by Mal­loy’s bud­get of­fice taken from re­cent FBI data.

The con­fer­ence was par­tially fo­cused on the 75 in­car­cer­ated men and cor­rec­tional staff who are part of Cheshire’s T.R.U.E. Unit, a ther­a­peu­tic com­mu­nity for the most dis­rup­tive and im­pul­sive pop­u­la­tion in prison, in­mates ages 18 to 25. Mal­loy and Sem­ple’s trip to Ger­many also served as the in­spi­ra­tion for the unit, they said.

With T.R.U.E., those cho­sen from a pool of ap­pli­cants are men­tored by se­lected in­mates serv­ing life sen­tences and guided by spe­cially trained staff while en­gag­ing in ac­tiv­i­ties with their fam­i­lies to help pre­pare them for rein­te­gra­tion to so­ci­ety af­ter their prison terms are served.

In­mates wear­ing tan jump­suits and white or black sneak­ers watched from me­tal benches in the prison’s au­di­to­rium as the con­fer­ence tog­gled be­tween pan­els and speak­ers in New York and Cheshire. In­mates and those in the New York au­di­ence also had the op­por­tu­nity to ask panel mem­bers ques­tions.

Jer­maine Young, a men­tor in the T.R.U.E. Unit who was sen­tenced to a 50-year prison term for mur­der, said he has learned his role is about teach­ing mentees “how to be a hu­man be­ing again … as well as dig­nity.

“Be­cause when you come to jail, your first step in jail, your dig­nity is evis­cer­ated at the door,” Young said. “So we are try­ing to re­store that back by the pro­grams that the men­tors have cre­ated as well as fa­cil­i­tated.”


Michael Cummo / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia file photo

Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy seen here in Septem­ber, vis­ited the Cheshire Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion in 2017 and spoke about the T.R.U.E. pro­gram. T.R.U.E. stands for “Truth­ful­ness, Re­spect­ful­ness, Un­der­stand­ing and El­e­vat­ing.” The pro­gram in­cludes of­fend­ers be­tween the ages of 18-25, with the goal of mak­ing the fa­cil­i­ties safer and pre­vent­ing these young adults from re­turn­ing to prison.

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