ISPS Director’s Fellows Respond to Gov. Malloy’s Initiative

Blog contributor 

On February 3 Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy announced his “Second Chance Society” initiative at Yale Law School. Malloy’s proposal seeks to reform Connecticut’s criminal justice system by reducing sentencing for nonviolent crime, treating drug possession as a misdemeanor, expediting parole hearings, and easing the pardoning process.

We asked three ISPS Director’s Fellows, who attended Malloy’s event, to respond to the Governor’s announcement and what it means for Connecticut and criminal justice reform. Students were given additional time with the Governor after the announcement for Q&A.

Libby Dimenstein is a sophomore in Yale’s Ethics, Politics and Economics program.

As someone who spent last summer investigating cases for public defenders, I was impressed with Governor Malloy’s presentation on his plans to reform a number of aspects of Connecticut’s criminal justice system. Governor Malloy covered a lot of ground, listing goals that range from providing housing and job opportunities for those who have previously been convicted of a crime to streamlining the parole and pardoning processes. I am particularly excited by the Governor’s initiative to reclassify the nonviolent possession of drugs as a misdemeanor. America’s absurdly high incarceration rate is caused in large part by its drug laws, many of which stem from the harsh policies of the War on Drugs. These laws disproportionately impact our country’s African American and Hispanic populations, and too many minority youth are imprisoned and forced to live with a label of “felon” simply for possessing illegal drugs meant for personal use. Converting this type of possession into a misdemeanor would lead to an even lower state incarceration rate and would be an appropriate follow-up measure to Connecticut’s decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, an act that the Governor mentioned in his address.

Students were permitted to ask Governor Malloy questions after he spoke, and he consistently gave what I perceived to be thoughtful answers about his plans for a “second-chance society.” I appreciated that he mentioned that prison reform is an issue he is pursuing (although I would have liked to hear more details about his plan), and I also liked his honesty; he admitted when he did not know enough about certain issues to comment on them. One of the most interesting questions came from a woman who wondered if many people in the justice system had ever been given a first chance. The Governor, perhaps thinking back to the years he spent as an Assistant District Attorney in New York, offered a firm answer, asserting that those who commit crimes deserve to be punished. While a number of the students in the room might have disagreed with him on that point, they certainly must have been heartened to hear that he plans to reduce crime by closing the “school-to-prison pipeline.” From what I can tell, Governor Malloy has some excellent plans for the future of Connecticut’s criminal justice system, and I hope that the trend towards lower rates of incarceration in the state continues over the course of his time in office.

Zach Young is a sophomore also in Yale’s Ethics, Politics and Economics program.

On Tuesday, I listened to Governor Malloy announce a series of criminal justice reforms as part of his campaign for a “Second Chance Society.” Malloy first identified the State of Connecticut as a leader in lowering both crime and incarceration rates during his tenure as governor. To make further progress, he maintained, action was required on a number of policy fronts. This included eliminating “mandatory minimums” for non-violent offenders, streamlining the parole and pardons processes, and reformulating illegal drug possession as a misdemeanor. While many of Malloy’s proposals have encouraging precedents in other states, I was more impressed by Malloy’s conciliatory tone than the substance of his legislation.

Criminal justice reform is too important an issue to be typecast as partisan. Throughout his address, Malloy sought support for his proposals on a number of normative grounds. He cited incarceration expenses and payments to Virginian prisons, stressing the importance of saving “taxpayer dollars.” He employed religious imagery, gesturing towards the idea of “redemption.” Malloy also drew a bright-line between violent and non-violent offenses, offering to increase sentences for the former category.

In a following question-and-answer segment with students, Malloy struck a moderate position and defended the limited extent of his reforms. “There’s a fine line between combatting recidivism and rewarding bad behavior,” he said. When one student asked if his “second chance” language implied there ever was a “first chance,” Malloy curtly said it did. Malloy also emphasized the political challenges of realizing his existing platform. He did not want to bite off more than he could chew.

Today, elected leaders all too often use policy announcements to rabble-rouse their political base. It was refreshing to see a state executive seek the implementation of realistic policies, not the applause of his most fervent supporters. While my liberal peers questioned why Governor Malloy didn’t go further with his proposals, I applaud him for spelling out attainable goals. Wishful thinking and partisan finger pointing will not solve the problems of our criminal justice system.

Adrian Hale is a junior at Yale studying political scientist and an Eli Whitney Scholar.

First off I want to start out by saying that I most sincerely applaud Governor Malloy’s proposal of executive actions on Tuesday that he announced as a part of his initiative to create within the state of Connecticut, a “second chance society”. With the United States being the leading incarcerator among modern industrialized nations, I truly believe its efforts like this that can help turn the tide and help reduce the size of our staggering prison population within the United States.

However, for me I still feel as though if Governor Malloy is truly going to create a “second chance society” within the state of Connecticut then he must extend the state’s grace and mercy beyond the realms of non-violent offenses and drug charges that are absent of intent to sell. I say this because one of the Governor’s moral reasons behind the “second chance society” initiative is just because a person makes a mistake in life doesn’t mean that they should be subject to a permanent state of second-class citizenship. I agree with this statement in its entirety and don’t believe that the state should differentiate if it’s truly going to preach the message of redemption in regard to its newfound take on criminal justice.

When given the privilege to converse with the Governor about my concerns I asked him if he agreed with me? And if he did agree are these measures the initial stages of a piecemeal approach to comprehensive reform of the state’s criminal justice system? The governor did agree and alluded to his most fundamental belief that the state of Connecticut can do much better in regard to how it administers justice and due process to its citizens.

But something for the Governor to think about is if he is truly going to establish a “second chance society” than he must eventually factor in more than just the criminal justice system. But he must also take into account the states economic disparities and its relationship to crime. In the state of Connecticut the three largest urban areas (Bridgeport, New Haven, and Stamford) are also responsible for the highest crime rates and collectively make up for 50% of the states crime. These cities are also home to high concentrations of poverty and failing public primary and secondary education systems. To adequately address the issue of a second chance, like one student at the Yale Law School suggested we might first have to truly see if some citizens are even being given a first chance. The state is going to have to connect the correlation of poverty and education inequality with its crime rates and deliver some sweeping reforms in these areas as well!