A Second Chance Society: A Conversation about Justice Reform in Connecticut

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A Second Chance Society: A Conversation about Justice Reform in Connecticut

A Second Chance Society: A Conversation about Justice Reform in Connecticut

Mike Lawlor, Connecticut's under secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, discusses Governor Dannel P. Malloy's Second Chance Society, a series of justice reforms (including dramatic changes to bail and juvenile justice policies) that seek to reduce crime, lower spending on prisons, and help rebuild relationships between criminal justice professionals and the communities they serve. This New Thinking podcast was recorded in Chicago in April 2016 after Lawlor participated in a panel on "Jail Reduction and Public Safety" at Community Justice 2016.

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Mike Lawlor, second from left, who is Connecticut's under secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, participates in a panel on "Jail Reduction and Public Safety" at Community Justice 2016.Mike Lawlor, second from left, who is Connecticut's under secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, participates in a panel on "Jail Reduction and Public Safety" at Community Justice 2016.

MIKE LAWLOR: People gradually buy into the fact that, after all, the whole point of the criminal justice system is to reduce crime, and if that's what's happening, everybody's doing a good job.

ROB WOLF: This is Rob Wolf, Director of Communications at the Center for Court Innovation in Chicago at Community Justice 2016 where there's a lot going on, a lot of panels talking about justice reform, people from all around the country and even around the world sharing ideas. One of those people with some interesting and cutting edge ideas is with me right now. His name is Mike Lawlor. He is the Chief Criminal Justice Advisor to Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, and he just participated in a panel on jail reduction and public safety.

A lot of interesting things are going on in Connecticut around justice reform, Mike, and I thought maybe you could explain a little bit about what the governor's agenda is. I understand it's something called the Second Chance Society.

So what's it all about?

LAWLOR: So yeah. My boss, Governor Malloy, talks extensively about his goals for what he refers to as a "Second Chance Society." And really that covers all of the ground of the criminal justice reform initiatives we're seeing around the country. He also articulates this with clear goals, and goal number one is to reduce crime. Goal number two is to reduce spending, and goal number three is to restore confidence in the criminal justice system, confidence among victims of crime who often come away thinking that they did not get justice, confidence among African Americans and Latinos who thinks the system is just not fair to them, and confidence among all citizens who see, every day, these examples of wrongful convictions or corruption or misconduct by police or prosecutors or probation officers or corrections officers or even judges sometimes even state legislators and governors, from time to time.

All of this undermines confidence in the criminal justice system, so restoring people's confidence and at the same time reducing crime is our goal. And we think that by making a variety of changes across the board, we will continue to see a reduction in Connecticut's crime rate, which is at its lowest point in 48 years, and we'll see we won't have to spend as much money running prisons, because for the immediate past 20 years or so we've spent more money running prisons in Connecticut than we have running colleges, which is kind of crazy.

Gradually we can rebuild these relationships, mainly between the criminal justice professionals and the community, and what you call community policing or something else. It's very important to build up that level of trust.

WOLF: Well those are really ambitious goals. So what are the actual policies that are being proposed to achieve these goals to reduce crime, reduce spending on the criminal justice system, and build confidence in the justice system?

LAWLOR: Okay, so let's start with what Governor Malloy has actually proposed this year, which is currently being considered by our state's legislature. It has two components. Number one is bail reform. Number two is raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction.

On the bail reform initiative, a number of states, most recently New Jersey, New Mexico, the New York Supreme Court, have acknowledged that bail is a real problem. In other words, people sitting in jail because they can't afford to post what oftentimes are relatively low amounts of bail. The governor this year has proposed that we not have money bail for people charged only with a misdemeanor, with an exception for cases involving violence, for example family violence cases are often charged only as misdemeanors, but there is a very high risk that something bad is going to happen.

He's asked our state sentencing commission to look at a comprehensive reform and report back next year so that potentially the legislature could enact comprehensive reform, as was the case in New Jersey and New Mexico, Connecticut has a state constitution that guarantees bail to all offenders.

But many states, and the federal government have an option for what is know as preventive detention. So, if there is an evidentiary showing that someone actually is a danger to the community, they can be held without bail at all.

In Connecticut, at the moment, the governor's concerned that the people who really should be locked up pre-trial are not. The high-risk, career criminal gang-banger types, bcause they have frequent flier points with the bail bondsmen and things like that, it's easy for them to get out if they get arrested, even if there's kind of a high bail.

On the other hand of the spectrum are the people that don't need to be in jail, but they're sitting there for months on end, waiting for their cases to get resolved because they can't come up with, in some cases, a few hundred dollars to get out the door.

So that's a big priority for us, and we think over time that will have a big impact on our jail population, but more importantly ...

WOLF: What's the actual proposal?

LAWLOR: So the proposal is no money bail for misdemeanors, and allowing all offenders who actually have a money bail that's been set for them, to have an option of posting 10% in cash that they would get back at the end of their case if they show up for all their court appearances and that is the case in many states.

In Connecticut, it's actually an option that judges have pursuant to rules of court, but it's not in statute, and we think that by putting it into statute, it'll be used more extensively.

Also, part of that proposal is that whatever money is accrued, because this cash will be sitting in a savings account while the court process plays out, all of that money that's earned through interest will go to our legal aid operations in the state. So it wouldn't be going to the state. It would be going to help fund legal assistance for the poor. And any money that is captured because people do not show up in court and we forfeit their money bail, that would also go to legal aid.

So we're trying to create a system that has no incentive to have higher bail just to raise money, and at the same time, make it more of an option to actually get out, especially for people who are poor.

WOLF: And you would presumably be saving money because fewer people would be held in jail unnecessarily pre-adjudication.

LAWLOR: Right. We know about half the people in jail right now in Connecticut, because they can't post bail, are in there on relatively minor charges. So, now, obviously on a case-by-case basis, there may be very high risk factors involved, but, in general, there's way too many people being held just because they can't come up with enough money to post bail.

And we'd like to get to the point where money bail is just not used at all. If you're really dangerous, prosecutors would have to put on an evidentiary showing, and you could potentially be held as a public safety measure, but the vast majority of cases that really don't meet those criteria would not sit in jail while their cases are pending.

WOLF: What if someone repeatedly doesn't return to a court date?

LAWLOR: Well, the proposal we have this year says that even if it's a misdemeanor where no money bail is allowed, if the new misdemeanor is in fact a failure to appear, that would allow for money bail to be set. But we know that, we've done a lot of deep dives into our data that we have and the rate at which people fail to appear is actually higher if a bail bondsman has posted bail for them.

Connecticut is the only state in the country— Now, keep in mind we do not have any county courts, everything is run by the state. We have no county jails. We have no elected prosecutors. We have no elected judges, and all courts are state courts, so it's easier for us to make changes. But we have the only statewide accredited pre-trial services agency in the country. It's run in the judicial branch. It's very well staffed, and they are very good at sorting out offenders by risk and monitoring defendants in the community with non-financial conditions of release.

So we have the infrastructure to really expand this a lot, and to the extent that we can save jail bed days, we can save a lot of money and at the same time get better outcomes, because all we know for sure is that putting somebody who's really a low-risk, high-needs person in jail, even for a short period of time, you're actually increasing the odds that they're going to recidivate once they get out. So we're trying to not do things that make it worse.

WOLF: And it sounds like you have the infrastructure in place to do what bail supposedly does, which is to encourage someone to come back to court, but you have a non-bail, non-monetary means to monitor compliance with that. And so, what were some of the other ...

LAWLOR: The juvenile ... so I think the more ambitious goal the governor has for this year is to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from what it is now, 18, up to 21. So, if we do it, we'll be the first state in this country to do it. Other places do it. For example, Germany, which the governor visited last year, you might have seen it on 60 Minutes. They did the piece a couple weeks ago.

In Germany, if you're under 21 and you get arrested and go to court, the judge makes an immediate decision whether the case will be handled pursuant to juvenile rules or adult rules and apparently 80% or 90% of the cases are dealt with as a juvenile case, in effect.

So, the governor said, "Since we have gotten some very good outcomes with our juvenile justice reforms that date back about 10 years, we've seen a dramatically reduced number of young people getting arrested. We have historically low number of juveniles in juvenile detention or in our juvenile prison-like facility, that if we're getting these good outcomes by the earlier reforms, maybe we can get those similar outcomes for 18, 19, and 20 year olds going forward."

We're beginning a process where we'll gradually phase this in. We're also going to make changes in the way we handle offenders under the age of 25. So, we want to have specialized parole and probation supervision for people under 25 so that the officers involved, that's their specialty, dealing with younger people. We're going to have a special correctional facility just for offenders under 25. We already have one for offenders under 21. We want to have another one for the next age cohort there.

WOLF: And the rationale is because they have different needs and are more amenable to rehabilitation?

LAWLOR: Exactly. And on top of that, mixing a 21 year old kid whose got all sorts of problems that have landed him in jail with some 40 year old career criminal guy's probably not a good idea, and I think any person with common sense would understand that that's probably the case.

I don't think it's done by design that all these people are mixed together in our prison system, but why not change it? We don't have to build a new prison, we just allocate one for the next age cohort and put in staff that specializes with that.

All of this ... the recent developments in brain science has really informed criminal justice policy planners like myself. I think people now, for the first time, are realizing that you need to have a special approach to younger offenders, meaning under 25.

If we are successful in getting some of these young people off this trajectory towards career criminal status or lengthy terms of incarceration, we'll need a lot fewer prison beds in this country.

So, earlier I referred to our juvenile justice reforms that have already taken place in Connecticut. First and foremost, Connecticut was one of three states in the country that used to treat 16 year olds as adults all the time. So it was Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina. Back in 2007, the legislature voted to increase the jurisdictional age up to 18, but to do it gradually, in increments, and establish a very robust planning process to get there.

So we spent two years figuring out how to do this. Starting on January 1, 2010, we went from 16 to 17. Then on July 1, 2012, went from 17 to 18, and added all of that to the juvenile courts and subtracted all of that from the adult courts.

It would be fair to say, "So how did that turn out?" And now we know. It's 2016, we have all the data. First of all, people had predicted, when we did this, the juvenile courts would be overwhelmed with new cases, and actually today there are fewer cases coming into the juvenile court than there were before because there's are a lot fewer young people getting into trouble that lead them to court in the first place.

Second, we know that we have an all-time low number of kids in juvenile detention, and that has to do with a lot of different policy changes, not just raising the age. But don't forget, it used to be that on your 16th birthday you were automatically an adult. You never could be in juvenile detention. Now we've added all 16 and 17 year olds, and even with that we've got a historic low.

We have three juvenile detention facilities in our state. One of the three has closed. The other two are about one-third full, and we're probably going to close one of those two shortly. We're closing 150 bed juvenile prison-like facility altogether. We're just gonna close it. It's down to 40 kids right now.

So all of this has to do with fewer younger people getting into trouble and getting arrested and ending up in court and ultimately incarcerated. We see that this effect is playing out now for already 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 years. It's like a trough moving through the arrest statistics.

And for example, 17 year-olds ... the last year we have complete data for is 2014, there was 60%, six zero, 60% fewer arrests of 17 year-olds statewide in 2014 than there were in 2008, and it's dropped in equal increments every single year.

In the adult system, we measure the number of kids in jail 18 to 21 years old who are actually incarcerated on a particular day. That number has dropped from 2062 on January 1, 2008, down to 960 on January 1, 2016.

WOLF: You know the numbers right off the top of your head, don't you?

LAWLOR: These are important numbers.

WOLF: ... recite them a lot. But lowering the age, it sounds like it's easier to do because the population is smaller, but it didn't create fewer arrests. There are other factors.

LAWLOR: Right. Definitely. So, it's the raising age, actually ... we went up to 18, now we're proposing to go to 21.

See, juvenile court works differently and has a different triage mechanism for new cases coming in. Not everybody ends up in front of a judge, and don't have all the formal proceedings with mandatory court dates, et cetera, which kind of sets up people for failure. You get charged with failure to appear if you don't show up on time, and go to your probation officers ... there's a lot of chutes and ladders that kind of get you into trouble.

The juvenile system is much less formal. Much focused on needs-assessment and hooking people up with appropriate interventions without an overlay of let's say, court appearances, a guilty plea, a probation officer. We are convinced that approaching young people differently will get you better outcomes.

The reason I'm citing these statistics is, 10 years ago, when we first started talking about this stuff people said, "If you make these changes, you'll get these outcomes." So here we are, fast forward ten years. We're getting those outcomes. Maybe it's a complete coincidence, but I don't think so.

Other examples of changes have been in school systems themselves. We know now that there's a very high correlation between suspensions and expulsions, even in younger grades, and ending up in prison down the road.

There's an extensive study in the state of Texas, which actually has very good data going back a long time, for every single kid in their public school system, and that's clearly shown that schools with the exact same type of kids and type of issues which tend to suspend and expel a lot of kids, versus schools which are very similar but suspend very few kids, it's the high suspension schools that end up with the high incarceration rate down the road.

So, there's something about not ostracizing, jettisoning, younger people but trying to deal with their issues up front that means that they'll be much less likely to end up in the criminal justice system down the road. So it's this kind of thinking, which is really a complete re-thinking of schools, justice, service provision, everything else that gets us to where we are today and sustains the momentum we hope to continue for the next few years.

The goal at the end of the day is reducing crime. If crime's going down, that's good. If crime is going up, something is wrong.

WOLF: And you said this, you thought, was the bigger task. The more challenging component to implement of the Second Chance Society, the raising the age is this requiring how you have to persuade the legislature. Are they on board?

LAWLOR: Well, it's a lot easier to talk to legislators and ordinary citizens, even journalists, editorial boards, about why we think this would be successful because we can cite the success of earlier, similar initiatives.

And the process that the governor has recommended is gradual and incremental with a lot of planning built into the front end. It's really more about re-allocating resources, because everything you add to the juvenile system, you subtract from the adult system, so we think it's very workable.

But people, appropriately, are apprehensive, skeptical, because it's new. It's a completely different approach to this. It's worth noting that we are making provisions to ... it wouldn't be 100% of the people under 21 go to juvenile court. Obviously, murders and very serious crimes, very high-risk kids of kids, there would be an option, with discretion, informed by specific standards or findings that need to be made, to deal with a case in adult court.

So it's not one-size-fits-all, at all. It's very focused on risk assessment, needs assessment, with the stated goal up front of reducing crime, reducing recidivism among kids who are actually coming in to court.

We think, based on our experience, that just talking about these things as the actual goals, talking about the fact that we now have the capability to measure all this data, make it very transparent so everybody can see what's going on, that affects behavior of everyone on the front lines: the cops, the prosecutors, probation parole, corrections, everybody. They know what the goal is, they know that you're able to figure this stuff out, and I think people gradually buy into the fact that, after all, the whole point of the criminal justice system, one would think, is to reduce crime. And if that's what's happening, everybody's doing a good job.

WOLF: Well, thanks for explaining all that, and good luck with all your exciting stuff going on in Connecticut.

LAWLOR: Thank you.

WOLF: I've been speaking with Mike Lawlor, who is Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy's Chief of Criminal Justice, well, the Chief Advisor to the governor, right?

LAWLOR: Policy stuff.

WOLF: Your exact title is, Undersecretary, Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division.

LAWLOR: That's the job. I'm a bureaucrat.

WOLF: Well, we need bureaucrats to get this done, right?

LAWLOR: There you go.

WOLF: I'm Rob Wolf, Director of Communications at the Center for Court Innovation, and Mike and I have been speaking outside of the rooms where Community Justice 2016 is occurring here at the Hilton in Chicago, where for two and a half days, people from around the country and even a few visitors internationally have been discussing justice reform. To find out more about the Center for Court Innovation and about justice reform, and about community justice, visit our website, www.courtinnovation.org. Thanks for listening.

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