Let us applaud the man's resourcefulness. Leroy James Gardner, a 44-year-old ex-bank robber just out of federal prison, needed help. Mr. Gardner, as reported by Courant columnist Stan Simpson last week, was released in Hartford with no money or contacts and without his anxiety medication. He walked over to the Capitol and, after failing to arrange a meeting with the governor, sought out Judiciary Committee co-chairman Michael Lawlor.
Mr. Lawlor was at a hearing on the death penalty, along with people from the Board of Pardons and Paroles. They met with Mr. Gardner and got him a bed at a local shelter.
Prisoners shouldn't have to walk into the Capitol to get help re-entering society. Those on parole or probation are supervised as they connect to housing, job centers, mental health, substance abuse counseling and other services.
Mr. Gardner represents a gap in the state and federal systems. He had served his sentence (for a parole violation), was not sentenced to probation and wasn't paroled. Such "end-of-sentence" inmates are offered help before they leave prison, but are on their own when they get out.
This doesn't work for many ex-inmates. "A lot of these guys need assistance and a supervising agent," said William Carbone, head of the state Judicial Branch's Court Support Services Division.
The numbers bear him out. The state's most recent study of recidivism, released earlier this year, shows that 37 percent of all inmates returned to prison for a new offense within three years — but only 23 percent of parolees went back, suggesting that transitional services make a difference.
Helping inmates who have served their time to find a decent life is both humane and sensible. An ex-offender with a job and a place to live is less likely to threaten public safety and more likely to help raise his children. Also, community programs are less expensive than prison, the average cost of which is almost $90 a day in Connecticut.
The state has put much more emphasis on preventing recidivism in the past half-dozen years, and the investment is working. The federal programs are, if anything, more intensive than the state's. But end-of-sentence inmates are harder to help. How to reach them?
Maureen Price-Borland, executive director of Community Partners in Action, a nonprofit that works with people in the criminal justice system, suggested that major cities have centralized re-entry centers where all offenders can connect with the services they need. Half of released male inmates return to Hartford, Bridgeport or New Haven, and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. is working on a comprehensive re-entry program. Another possibility is to revisit the sentencing process and require some type of transitional supervision.
So the man who walked into the Capitol in prison garb had a point and may help change the system.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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