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Criminal Justice Reform Legislation Doesn't Go Far Enough, Says Connecticut Professor

THOMAS HAWK / CREATIVE COMMONS

Lawmakers in Washington are attempting to overhaul the criminal justice system. Their aim is to find a solution to mass incarceration and reduce recidivism rates. But one expert doesn’t think the measure goes far enough. 

The U.S. House recently passed the so-called First Step Act. Among other things, it includes funding for expanded rehabilitation programs in federal prisons to reduce the likelihood of inmates reoffending once they’re released.

But the measure only affects the federal correctional system - a small part of the overall prison system. And one major sticking point is that it doesn’t eliminate mandatory minimums - meaning certain crimes carry predetermined prison terms, giving judges no discretion.

According to professor William Carbone at the University of New Haven, it would have no significant impact on mass incarceration

“The real mass incarceration that you read about is at the state level,” Carbone said. “Because most drug offenses, in particular, are prosecuted in state courts. And this would have no effect on the state systems at all.”

Carbone is executive director of Justice Programs at the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Science.

In Connecticut, there have been sweeping changes and incarceration rates have dropped. Governor Dannel Malloy has implemented initiatives like the T.R.U.E program to help inmates prepare for life after incarceration. The state has also passed measures that include decriminalizing the possession of small quantities of marijuana, and altering the bail system.

The state’s been a leader, said Carbone.

“You look at tremendous reductions in the prison population in Connecticut - I really give Governor Malloy a tremendous amount of credit,” he said. “The crime rate in Connecticut is at a 40-year low. His investments in the juvenile justice system have been paying dividends by bringing fewer and fewer people into the adult correctional system. Connecticut should be a national model.”

While Carbone doesn’t see the federal First Step Act as comprehensive criminal justice reform, he said the bill is a step in the right direction since it would offer more opportunities for offenders.

The measure heads next to the Senate.

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.

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