November 15 - 22, 2006
By ANDY HART, The Hartford News Staff Writer
A panel of experts on the state’s parole system came to speak at last week’s meeting of the Maple Avenue Revitalization Group (MARG), but most of the interesting ideas came from local residents who spoke out at the discussion.
The panel, which included Randy Brown, the Deputy Commissioner of the State Department of Corrections, Sherry Haller, Chairperson of the Justice Education Center, Father Lou Paturzo, coordinator of the New Day program for released prisoners, and Susan Carillo, a former inmate who has been able to turn her life around, had been asked to attend the meeting by State Representative Art Feltman, who was also in attendance. At last month’s MARG meeting, Feltman had had a spirited argument with supporters of using a GPS system to track the movements of parolees and arrested persons out on bail. Feltman said he’d brought the panel in to give a broader picture of the parole system.
Brown started off the discussion by saying that the Department of Correction used to believe their job was done once a person was out of the prison system. Now, he said, the Department is concentrating on finding ways to make sure a released prisoner doesn’t return to a life of crime.
How to achieve that goal became the main topic of the discussion. MARG President Hyacinth Yennie said released prisoners must have assistance with employment, housing and other concerns.
Many residents, including Kevin Brookman, said returning prisoners to their old neighborhoods – which is the state’s current policy – only encourages a return to the person’s former criminal ways. “Putting prisoners back where they came from, back where the drug dealers are, is like putting a hemophiliac in a candy store,” said Brookman.
Haller said released prisoners were better off in Hartford because it has more of the services they need.
But Barry Square resident Edwin Vargas countered, “We chose to locate those services in urban areas, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy...we’re all a family and must take care of everyone, but the burden in this case is being shoulder by the few [people living in Hartford and other urban areas].”
Another resident was more emphatic, “I don’t see why you can’t send them[released prisoners] to Canton or Sharon. They’ve got McDonalds [restaurants] out there, they’ve got other small, little jobs out there that these guys can do. I’ve got a small little job myself, I drive a cab for $13.50 an hour and I’m doing okay.”
“Well, maybe we can do something right here and now,” said Yennie, “don’t forget the [Hartford] Com¬munity Court started right here in this room.”
Several people said employment was the key, especially because people with a criminal record have a very hard time obtaining jobs.
“I’ve spoken to many young people who don’t want to go back [to prison] but their options are limited in terms of making a living,” said Vargas.
Brookman said that providing services for released prisoners should be linked to providing jobs. “If you want to put halfway houses in my neighborhood, you should also have to put a factory in my neighborhood.”