Gov. Dannel Malloy and prison administrators toured and touted a new correctional facility in Enfield designed to help inmates re-enter society and decrease their chances of returning to custody.
The new "Reintegration Center" provides inmates with classes and instruction.
“We want our men to be able to shake hands with someone when they’re meeting someone new," said John Tarascio, the Warden at the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution. "We want them to understand the impact of their crimes on their victims. We want them to secure a job and be responsible citizens of the state of Connecticut."
The center was dedicated Tuesday and was paid for within the existing Department of Correction budget. It currently houses 100 inmates but will eventually reach its capacity of 600 inmates.
There are also plans to provide for a similar female facility at a different prison.
Vendors involved with the center include job placement professionals and community colleges.
Prisons Chief Scott Semple told the audience that the "Second Chance" initiative being pushed by the Malloy administration is meant to be a common sense approach to prison and its role as a rehabilitator for inmates.
"Please know that this is not a soft-on-crime approach," Semple said. "This is a smart-on-re-entry approach."
Malloy said the center is a way for the state to reverse years of inefficient corrections programs that failed to reduce the rates of recidivism.
“We became more engaged in building prisons and permanent punishment than we were in permanent reform," he said.
He added that prisons in some cases should in fact be more short-term depending on the inmate.
"We should not be in the business of perfecting people’s criminal skills and, unfortunately for some individuals, that’s what happens when they’re institutionalized," he said.
Prisoners must apply for the program and all participants are selected by a committee.
Correction Department officials allowed a pair of hand-picked inmates to meet with reporters. Andrew Phillips is serving three years for his third DUI conviction and is involved in the program.
Even though he worked as a small business owner for many years, he says the reintegration center has been very helpful.
"It's nice to get reminders," Phillips told reporters in the cafeteria.
Serafettin Senen will be eligible for release in February of next year after serving five years for selling narcotics. When he heard about the opportunity, he jumped at the chance to sign up.
"Already, I’ve taken a job development workshop which teaches you how to deal with employers and how to interview; what to say, what not to say; how to carry yourself. I graduated that. So there’s more programs like that I want to take," Senen said.
On whether he thinks the classes have helped him develop skills for the outside world, Senen said, “I know it will. It’s already been helping me to understand.”