Connecticut has been a national leader in implementing the initial layer of reforms to the state’s justice system. We now have a historic opportunity to continue to build upon this foundation.

On Wednesday, January 9, Connecticut’s new legislature met for the first time, and Ned Lamont was sworn in as Connecticut’s 89th governor. In Governor Lamont’s State of the State speech, delivered shortly after the inauguration, he declared to a packed General Assembly: “This is our chance to reinvent Connecticut.”

When it comes to reforming the state’s criminal justice system, Smart Justice will be pushing Governor Lamont to be true to his word and for the legislature to do its part, too.

ACLU Smart Justice Connecticut is made up of a cohort of leaders, advocates, and change makers impacted by the justice system. We’re based on the knowledge that the people closest to the problem are closest to the solution. Our campaign goal is to end mass incarceration and eliminate the racial disparities that exist in the criminal justice system. We believe that Connecticut will be safer and stronger when our state reduces the number of people held in the state’s prisons and jails and allows them to be reunited with their families, in their communities, so they can be successful members of our state.

Smart Justice played an active role in Connecticut’s recent election cycle by advocating for every gubernatorial candidate to embrace and publish criminal justice reform policy platforms. Governor Ned Lamont met with Smart Justice several times in the summer and fall, when we pushed for him to embrace smart justice policies. Before the end of his campaign, he published a criminal justice reform platform on his website, in which he committed to many of Smart Justice’s 100 Day Pledge objectives. Governor Lamont’s pledges to Smart Justice included promises to  foster transparency in the Division of Criminal Justice, expand the scope of Connecticut’s anti-discrimination laws to include people who have been impacted by the justice system, and to launch a national search for the next Commissioner of the Department of Correction.

Governor Lamont has highlighted criminal justice reform as “the right thing to do and the smart thing to do” for Connecticut. In December, Governor Lamont met with the criminal justice policy group from his transition team to listen to their recommendations for his administration. Tiheba Bain, a Smart Justice leader, was a member of the transition team and spoke to Governor Lamont about how Connecticut can reduce the collateral consequences that are imposed on people who are living with a criminal record, and how Connecticut can help people reintegrate into society and support themselves and their families by expanding the scope of state anti-discrimination laws.

During the 2019 legislative session, Smart Justice will be advocating for two major pieces of legislation: a bill to create transparency about what prosecutors do, and a bill that could make Connecticut the first state in the country to prevent people from being discriminated against based solely on their criminal record in things like housing, employment, insurance, and education.

Smart Justice knows that everyone in Connecticut has been impacted by the criminal justice system: people who pay for ineffective incarceration with their tax dollars, people who have been incarcerated or accused of crimes, adults and children whose loved ones are or have been incarcerated, and people who have been the victims of crime are all affected by the decisions our state makes about its justice system.

We also know that justice reform is a bipartisan issue. At a state level, 74 percent of Connecticut voters, including nearly six in 10 Republican voters, support the state passing a law to prevent people from being discriminated against based on their criminal record in things like housing, employment, education, and insurance. At the national level, President Donald Trump recently signed the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill aimed at reducing recidivism and refining sentencing laws. This legislation, although not comprehensive, took meaningful steps for change and received broad support in the U.S. Senate and House, a clear indicator that taking sensible steps to reverse mass incarceration, increase public safety, and improve our justice system is not political or partisan – it’s about making our justice system fairer for all people in the United States.

Smart Justice is a campaign of action, and we believe that everyone has a role in ending mass incarceration in our state. In Connecticut’s General Assembly, we believe that members on both sides of the political aisle can and should come together to support justice reforms that end mass incarceration and create a stronger and safer state. We have already begun meeting with our state representatives and look forward to continuing to introduce ourselves and the benefits that justice reform will bring to Connecticut’s justice system, as well as the state’s economy, communities and all who call our state home.

You can follow the Smart Justice campaign progress on Facebook and Twitter and here on this website, where we will be posting information about our upcoming legislative work to increase government transparency and make our justice system more fair and equitable.

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