The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)
Help for ex-prisoners benefits everyone
With thousands of jobs unfilled in Connecticut, the state needs to use any means necessary to get people working and keep the economy moving.
Connecticut has made significant strides in criminal justice reform in the past decade, with the clearest example the closure of prisons due to falling inmate populations. Last week, Gov. Ned Lamont announced that Willard Correctional Institution in Enfield will be closing this year, the latest in a series of moves as the state’s prison population has decreased by 44 percent since 2012.
But there is always more to be done. Reducing the prison population is important, but just as vital is providing opportunities for people who have been incarcerated. It’s in everyone’s interest to prevent recidivism, for several reasons. One is that it means less crime. It also means less expense, because everyone pays for the machinations of the justice system.
A planned facility in Bridgeport aims to provide a means to those ends.
The Bridge on Main, planned in downtown Bridgeport, would serve as a center for helping formerly incarcerated people get their lives back on track. “We want to provide as many services that the community can hit under one roof, predominantly really focusing on those that are returning citizens or justice-involved,” said Scott Wilderman, president and CEO of Career Resources.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz was among a bipartisan group of dignitaries who visited the site this week, and stressed the economic importance of bringing people back into the workforce. With thousands of jobs unfilled in Connecticut, the state needs to use any means necessary to get people working and keep the economy moving.
The idea is to open the facility in 2025, but there’s a long way to go. Public and private funding is still being lined up, and there’s plenty of work to do before it can start serving the community. The need for those services, however, is already here.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t backlash expected. Any time services for formerly incarcerated people are proposed, there are complaints that priority should first go to people who haven’t broken any laws. A lot of people need help, in other words, so why should this population get to be first in line?
The answer is that there’s nothing simple about providing help, and there will always be a debate about priorities. One thing we know, however, is that simply letting people out of prison and telling them to fend for themselves doesn’t work. It is much too easy to fall back into old patterns, which leads to more criminality and reduced safety for everyone.
Helping people get back to work fills an important need for the Connecticut economy, but it’s also the right thing to do. When sentences have been served, people’s criminal status is not supposed to follow them their whole lives. There is much less hope of building a new future if past sentences are going to be an obstacle at every step.
That’s the thinking behind such laws as Clean Slate, which erases certain nonviolent crimes from a person’s history after a few years have gone by without any trouble. It gives people a fresh start.
That’s what the Bridge on Main is about. It’s to everyone’s benefit that it has a chance to succeed.