Mayor John DeStefano wants state permission to keep track of gun offenders in his city—and jail them if they don’t tell him where they live. Some local leaders questioned whether the idea contradicts the city’s efforts to help ex-cons go straight.
DeStefano’s proposal: require people leaving prison after a gun conviction to register their home address with the city. Failure to register would be a misdemeanor charge, punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
To make the registry happen, the mayor needs passage of a state law.
The proposal got top billing at a press conference Tuesday in City Hall, where DeStefano officially unveiled his top legislative priorities at the state Capitol this year. He focused on three areas: new state taxes, public safety and education. The proposals were first aired Monday night in an aldermanic briefing. (Click here to read more about that briefing.)
DeStefano pitched the gun bill as a way to reach out the city’s prison reentry population—and hold them “accountable.”
He brought to the podium one local pastor, Brenda Atkins (at left in photo above), who read from a written statement of support.
Across the room, criminal justice activist Barbara Fair quickly shot down the idea. She said the law would cut short ex-cons’ opportunities by throwing them back in jail. She said City Hall’s proposal does nothing to address the root cause of gun violence.
“All they have to offer is how to punish them more,” Fair said.
New Haven State Reps. Gary Holder-Winfield and Pat Dillon both raised questions about how the proposal fits with the city’s pledge to give ex-cons a second chance.
DeStefano defended the proposal as a key tool to suppress gun violence and intervene with ex-cons before they reoffend. Last year, the city had 140 shootings. A total of 70 to 80 percent of the victims and perpetrators of shootings and homicides were felons, the mayor said.
About 20 to 25 felons enter New Haven each week from prison, according to the city.
Aren’t those people already being tracked by the state? a couple of observers asked.
Not all of them, according to the city. At least a third of people arriving in New Haven from prison are end-of-sentence felons who aren’t being watched by parole or probation officers, according to Amy Meek, head of the city’s prison reentry initiative.
The city has no way of tracking end-of-sentence felons, the mayor said. The gun registry, which is based on models in Baltimore and New York City, would let the city keep track of them in a database.
Who would use the database?
The police department and the city’s prison reentry initiative would have access to it, said Adam Joseph, the city’s legislative liaison to the state Capitol.
The registry would allow the police department to “know who is coming back into the neighborhood,” for “public safety reasons,” he said. And the registry would let Meek’s office connect ex-cons with services, such as those in the city’s new prison reentry guide.
It would allow the city to reach out to offenders to help them, the mayor emphasized.
Fair balked at that notion.
“They always say that—‘I’m doing that for your better good,’” she said. “Why don’t you help them find resources without putting them on registries and locking them up?”
Fair said ex-cons are being unfairly targeted.
“Does it target them? Yes it does target them,” the mayor said in a separate interview. “But that’s because gun violence has become a particularly bad problem in New Haven.”
No members of the state delegation were present at Tuesday’s press event. DeStefano said he didn’t invite them because “they’re all in Hartford.”
Reached later that day, New Haven State Rep. Holder-Winfield said he hadn’t read the gun bill, but he had heard a lot of discussion about it.
He said he was concerned to hear that “these people that we’re trying to help in the city would have a misdemeanor” charge against them if they fail to register. “That’s just something that alarms me,” he said.
State Rep. Dillon said she had just heard about the gun bill Monday and had not read the proposal.
“It might have merit, but I’d have to look with it,” she said. She mentioned New Haven’s new Ban the Box ordinance, under which the city and its vendors give ex-cons a fair shake by eliminating the “felon” box on job applications.
“How does [the gun offender registry] fit with Ban the Box?” Dillon asked.
“I actually think that it works in conjunction with Ban the Box,” Joseph later responded. “The reality is that it would help provide services to reentry folks—to identify them as they’re coming out of prison, and we can direct services to them in an expedient manner.”
Rep. Dillon also pointed to something that did not appear on the city’s list of priorities. She said she has been meeting recently with prison reentry service providers about a pressing state issue—Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s threatened budget cuts. STRIVE, a nonprofit that helps ex-cons and Iraq war vets find jobs, is at risk of losing all its state funding, she said.
“Is the city going to fight to protect the money that’s going to those folks?” Dillon asked. “Is that on the list?”