Candidates Line Up Behind Prison Reentry Agenda

Paul Bass PhotoThey’re on board with the program.

They want more housing for the 100 people returning to New Haven from prison every month.

They want more job opportunities for them.

They want more employers to abide by the law and the spirit of “ban the box,” which requires city government and contractors to wait until after a first job interview to inquire about

They believe that jobs and housing will help those returnees avoid joining the ranks of the 70 percent of ex-cons who commit crimes again.

That was the upshot of a mayoral forum Tuesday evening on prison reentry.

The Reentry Roundtable advocacy group sponsored the panel, which took place at Wilbur Cross High School. Mayoral hopefuls Justin Elicker, Kermit Carolina, Sundiata Keitazulu, Toni Harp, and Henry Fernandez attended. Sarah Russell of Quinnipiac Law School moderated the discussion.

“They’ve done their time, and they deserve a second chance,” Elicker said.

The others agreed. They agreed on policy—they’d like to see the housing authority expand a pilot program that lets 20 recent ex-cons jump the 1,000-family waiting line for public-housing apartments. They largely agreed that the next mayor should help urge businesses, and give them incentives, to hire ex-cons. “That makes all of us in the city of New Haven safer,” because employed, housed ex-cons are less likely to commit new crimes, Fernandez said.

The candidates did emphasize some different points, and offered some original proposals.

Fernandez, for instance, suggested pushing the state to draw from New Haven’s Construction Workforce Initiative to hire people on construction projects. The city (including Fernandez when he served as economic development chief) formed the initiative to train local jobless or unemployed people to work on city-funded construction projects. The state has a lot more construction projects than the city does, Fernandez noted. “We’d be talking about thousands of more people being employed, including people coming out of prison,” since the initiative accepts them. Fernandez also suggested creating a computer database to track each of the monthly 100 people returning to New Haven from prison to track how they’re doing. He suggested as well that the city help ex-cons get pardons, to improve their employment chances.

Harp, for her part, suggested working with the prisons to offer inmates partial day releases to receive drug treatment or mental-health treatment at not-for-profits in the community so they can be better prepared to succeed once they leave prison. She also suggested helping skilled ex-cons start their own businesses.

The candidates also spoke of their personal histories working on issues related to prison reentry. Carolina spoke of taking some of his most “at-risk” students at Hillhouse High School, where he serves as principal, on a field trip to the Whalley jail—to get a close-up look of what awaits them if they don’t straighten up. He also plugged the “Emerge” program run for ex-cons with the support of United Way, where he serves on the board. Fernandez spoke of running the LEAP youth program and working on the city’s prison reentry initiative, Elicker of attending “CompStat” community data-sharing sessions at the police department. Harp spoke of her experience in state government, including a program she helped start for children of incarcerated parents. And Sundiata spoke of ...

... his time in jail.

“I was in prison. I know the problem these people face. No money. No nothing,” he said.

A lot of prisoners can’t read or write, he noted.  “I used to write letters for guys. They paid me to write letters.”

“We have to give people second chances,” he concluded.

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posted by: Ella O. DeAlla on July 31, 2013  1:58pm

I would like to see other towns participate in back to work programs for prisoners.  No reason why the most impoverished towns in the state always have to handle all the complicated social issues

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on July 31, 2013  1:58pm

Few people believe in giving ex-offenders second chances. It makes for good press to say they are for it and I believe they believe what they say.  However the reality is, folks come out with having gone in lacking family support, job readiness skills, inability to read and write, mental health issues, health issues and so on.

Having done a bit of time in a federal prison camp, I know what I saw…. women unable to write home to their families.  Women unable to read letters from their kids.  I spent a lot of time doing that… writing and reading for and to women. (those kind women kept me in red licorice as a thank you)

Although I greatly appreciate the conversation and the raising of the issue of re-entry in this mayoral campaign, I hope and pray that real attention is paid long after the pageantry is over.  Re-Entry is a major concern for communities already under siege by a great many other social ills.

Regardless of what the sentiments are, the majority of folks who go to jail, get out…and they come home. We have to decide how we want to welcome them back to society or shun them and push them back into the prison complex system.

posted by: Brutus2011 on July 31, 2013  2:05pm

There is a person in my extended family who has extraordinary problems finding employment because of a felony conviction from 15+ years ago.

At some point, you have to really question our criminal justice system and the greater society.

It may almost be more merciful to execute all felons (of course not a serious suggestion) because they will not be given the chance to rehabilitate their lives due to societal employment prejudice and bias. And given how one’s employment deeply affects all facets of one’s life, being a felon makes many not economically viable.

I don’t have any earth-shaking ideas but it is time public policy folks really try to help give folks a chance at a life after a mistake.

posted by: citoyen on July 31, 2013  4:46pm

Could the NHIndependent please post ADVANCED notice of debates and forums like this, even though they do NOT happen to be sponsored by the Independent?

The Events Calendar over at the upper right of the homepage would be the logical/ideal place to do this.

I see suddenly a notice there about a forum to be held TONIGHT on food and health.  I’m not sure, but I think that notice just went up.  In any case, it was not early enough.


(P.S. I have tried to search for a list of all remaining forums and debates before the primary election, and nothing at all pops up.  Do you have such a thing?  Could you create one?)

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 31, 2013  4:48pm

The tragic reality of the world’s biggest corrupt legal system -America’s rigged courts, bribed judges, fake and phony trials, extortion by lawyers, and crooked politicians along with the crooked two party system.Ask this question.How come crooked politicians can come out of jail and have a job waiting for them,But those of us who have never been to jail or the small person who come out of jail can not find a job.

posted by: UBHolden on July 31, 2013  9:58pm

Fact check time!  Henry claims he started the construction Initiaitve but if I remember correctly wasn’t it already running before he came to city government?  Also, when the re-entry initiative began 4-5 years ago, Henry was long gone from LEAP, so how does he remember working with it?

posted by: nadir1876 on July 31, 2013  10:23pm

Three-fifths we seldom agree, but you are right on with your comments. Some politicians never get sent to jail for serious offenses; see Eliot Spitzer. They also get to run again.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 1, 2013  5:13pm

posted by: nadir1876 on July 31, 2013 10:23pm

Three-fifths we seldom agree, but you are right on with your comments. Some politicians never get sent to jail for serious offenses; see Eliot Spitzer. They also get to run again.

Eliot Spitzer crimes were using campaign funds to pay for two Mayflower Hotel bookings, $411.06 apiece, where he met with prostitutes.Anthony Weiner sexting scandal.No evidence of misuse of public funds.I am talking about crooked politicians and those who Benfit from misuse of public funds.They get Jobs when they come out.Case and point looks at those crooks from Watergate.