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How Connecticut Might Give Non-Violent Drug Offenders a "Second Chance"


Non-violent drug offenders in Connecticut soon may get a second chance.

Governor Dannel Malloy announced a series of legislative proposals aimed at drug law reform on Tuesday, which he deemed the "Second Chance Society" initiative, which he said would further reduce crime and reintegrate non-violent offenders into society. The proposals directly contrast zero-tolerance policy stemming from President Ronald Reagan's 1982 launch of the “War on Drugs."

Malloy’s reforms include reclassifying drug possession as a misdemeanor (unless there is intent to sell), eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders, revamping the parole and pardons systems to help ex-offenders get jobs, and investing in housing for ex-offenders as they re-enter society. Malloy announced Wednesday he also wants to expand education and employment opportunities for ex-convicts. 

Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR
Don Sawyer, assistant professor of sociology at Quinnipiac University, during a visit to WNPR.

Speaking on WNPR’s Where We Live, Don Sawyer, assistant professor of sociology at Quinnipiac University, said Malloy’s proposals could redefine urban stereotypes. 

Sawyer said hyper-policing of urban neighbors in "open air drug markets" results in an excess of non-violent drug crime arrests. With a mandatory minimum, judges cannot take an offender's non-violent character into consideration before sending him or her to prison -- thus, people who often go to prison aren’t always selling a lot of drugs.

"If some police officers know that they need to get some arrests, they know they can go to a specific place [and] they're more likely to get an arrest," Sawyer said. "So in the public psyche, it creates this image that these drugs are in urban spaces. But if you talk to a lot of college students, they can tell you that the drugs are taking place on college campuses, they're taking place in suburbs, but the hyper-policing is not taking place there." 

Also speaking on Where We Live, Salon Columnist Bill Curry said Malloy's proposals will require three levels of implementation: The first is changing the law. The second is cleaning out the backlogs of probation and pardons. The last step, easing people into society, will be the hardest.

Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR
Bill Curry, columnist for Salon.com and former Democratic nominee for governor, during a visit to WNPR.
"When people come out of the system, they live in a civic and economic no-man’s land."<br><em>Bill Curry</em>

"When people come out of the system, they live in a civic and economic no-man’s land," Curry said. 

But Curry said the American consensus on drug reform and race relations is moving rapidly. 
"As with foreign policy -- as with law and order issues generally -- our society is moving on in some really key ways," Curry said. "When I was younger, there was an overwhelming prejudice in  large numbers of whites. There's still that in a smaller group, but now the races are like boys and girls at a middle school dance on opposite sides of the gym floor."

Both Curry and Sawyer said progress will come as people of different races start to unpack and embrace their differences. 

"One of our goals as a society is simply to introduce people to each other, people who aren’t living multi-culturally are missing out," Curry said. 

Watch footage below from CT-N of Malloy's address this week at Yale Law School on the "Second Chance Society" initiative:

Ryan King is an intern at WNPR.

Ryan Caron King joined Connecticut Public in 2015 as a reporter and video journalist. He was one of eight dedicated reporters on the New England News Collaborative’s launch team, covering regional issues such as immigration, the environment, transportation, and the opioid epidemic. His work has been published nationally on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here & Now, and on NPR’s digital platforms. From 2017 to 2018, Ryan was on a team covering the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and won a National Edward R. Murrow Award for “Excellence in Video.” Since 2019, he has been a full-time visuals journalist.

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