Lawlor Discusses Second Chance Society at Natchaug ECSU Luncheon

March 24, 2016 By Hartford HealthCare

Lawlor at Natchaug ECSU LuncheonIn the state of Connecticut, the possession of any narcotics within 1,500 feet of a school used to be a felony with a mandatory two year prison sentence. In Mike Lawlor's hometown of New Haven, there are only two places that aren't in 1,500 feet of a school.

"The Yale golf course and the salt marsh next to I-91," said Lawlor, the state’s Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning.

According to Lawlor, the result of such harsh drug penalties was an expensive and ineffective prison system with a large population of inmates with substance abuse issues.

Under its Second Chance Society reform plan, Connecticut is changing the way it treats non-violent crimes like drug possession, explained Lawlor during his presentation at the annual ECSU Foundation Luncheon to benefit Natchaug Hospital education programs. The fundraiser, now in its ninth year, was attended by almost 100 people on March 24 at the Betty R. Tipton Room at Eastern Connecticut State University.

“Eighty-five percent of people in prison have a substance abuse issue, and a very large percentage of our inmates in the Department of Corrections have a serious mental health issue,” he said. “There’s a real problem there that gives rise to the crime.”

The issue with mandatory sentences, explained Lawlor, is often in the barriers faced by those with criminal records, many of whom have committed non-violent crimes.

“Once you’re a former inmate, an ex-con, or a convicted felon, the ability to get a job, or get housing, or get access to higher education or even health care in many cases is extremely complicated if not impossible,” Lawlor said. “All of the evidence we have now says that if your goal is to reduce crime, the sheer number of people who cycle through prisons is actually having the effect of increasing crime.”

Under its Second Chance Society reform plan, Connecticut took its first step towards stopping that cycle by reducing the possession of narcotics in a school zone from a felony to a misdemeanor with no mandatory prison sentence. Expedited parole and pardons for those convicted of non-violent crimes, such as drug sale or possession, are set to go into effect this summer.

The next set of reforms addresses the juvenile justice system, where Gov. Dannel Malloy has proposed that Connecticut become the first state to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 18 to 21 for all but the most serious crimes.

“If we can have an approach that addresses the problem [of substance abuse and mental health], then the sanctions, the incarceration, the punitive approach may be less necessary in the future.”

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