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Re-entry programs face financial hurdles amid efforts to support former inmates

Martin Olivier Lopez is the author of American Immigrant.
Maricarmen Cajahuaringa
/
Connecticut Public
Martin Olivier Lopez is the author of "American Immigrant."

There are over 30,000 people in Connecticut on probation or parole, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, and reintegration remains a challenge.

Deborah Rogala, Director of Operations for Community Partners in Action (CPA), says their organization has been supporting people transitioning back into society for nearly 150 years.

“Everybody wins when we provide really good re-entry services to individuals who deserve it,” Rogala said. “They made a mistake; they are coming back into the community, and as a community, we are better off if they are successful.”

Rogala said CPA's newest Welcome Centers in Hartford and Waterbury started in 2018. These centers provide essential support to people coming out of prison, offering assistance with housing, job placement and mental health services.

Re-entry programs support all individuals being released, including those through commutations. Between 2021 to 2023, 111 commutations were granted, which generated public backlash.

“There is such a stigma about people that have a criminal charge,” Rogala said. “CPA is trying to put a human face on people coming out of prison.”

Rogala said these programs depend heavily on partnerships and community support.

“What we are really asking is the state look at re-entry and put it into the actual budget annually,” Rogala said. “We don’t get any state funding for either re-entry welcome center, so what we want is for the state to make a commitment.”

The Policy Institute Initiative data shows that Connecticut has an incarceration rate of 394 per 100,000 people. While this rate is lower than the national average it is still higher than that of nearly any other democratic country in the world.

Martin Olivier Lopez is a former inmate. He immigrated to the United States from Columbia when he was young. After serving time for various offenses, he said he’s gotten his life on track.

Lopez's self-published book, “American Immigrant,” shares his tumultuous journey and the harsh realities of detention. Lopez said he transformed his life with faith-based support and now helps rehome dogs for veterans and special needs families through the22 Mohawks program.

“I am an American. I have American values,” Lopez said. “I like football on Sundays, I like church on Sundays. I have the same principles and values. America is a wonderful place where people get second chances.”

Rogala said there is an urgent need to secure sustainable funding to avoid recidivism and points to the support of the CT Department of Correction as an example of the programs impact.

“If funding should end, people will be discharged from prison without the appropriate support and services needed,” she said. “And when people don't have services, they potentially will resort to continue criminal behavior.”

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.

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