State year-end prison population at lowest level in 16 years

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s prison population reached a 16-year low at the end of 2014 and is expected to continue to drop in the coming year, reflecting a reduction in crime around the state, officials said Wednesday.

There were 16,167 inmates in the system on Jan. 1, down from 16,594 a year ago, according to a state report. Officials said the decline was highlighted by a dramatic decrease in the number of young adults entering the system for the first time.

The drop in the prison population since 2008 has been about 17 percent, down from 19,438 inmates.

The last time the year-end numbers were lower was on January 1, 1999, where there were 16,104 inmates in the system, according to Mike Lawlor, the governor’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy.

The population decline comes despite a decrease in the number of inmates being released from prison, Lawlor said.

“High-risk, violent offenders are being kept in longer,” he said. “What is driving the prison population down is that fewer people are committing crimes, fewer people are being arrested and fewer people being sentenced to prison.”

The number of men being admitted to jail as pretrial detainees for the first time has dropped 34 percent from 5,756 in 2008 to 3,786, according to the state Office of Policy and Management.

The greatest decline in that group came in the number of 18- to 22-year-olds entering the system for the first time down to 1,104 in December from 2,067 five years ago.

There were 3,093 first-timers under 25 in the system in 2008.

There are multiple factors that have led to the falling numbers, Lawlor said. He credits reforms in the system that have allowed most 16- and 17-year-olds to be treated as juvenile offenders and avoid prison.

School-based diversion programs, which are designed as alternatives to expelling high-risk problem students, have allowed them complete high school.

“That means five or 10 years later, they are much less likely to be sitting in a prison cell and are now out of that pipeline,” Lawlor said.

Lawlor said the cost savings to the state have been significant, though they have not yet crunched those numbers. It costs about $45,000 a year to house an inmate in Connecticut, he said. There are about 1,000 fewer employees in the Correction Department over the past four years.

“The downward population trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, because the feeder system is clearly not sending as many people in,” he said.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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