Speaking last month at Yale Law School, Governor Dannel Malloy announced a proposal to create a “Second Chance Society,” which would have a major impact on drug laws in Connecticut. The plan is reflective of a larger movement to change how the federal and state governments treat drug crimes. The idea behind the plan is to focus more on rehabilitating drug offenders and allowing them to reenter society, rather than simply locking them in prison, which can create a damaging cycle of recidivism. The proposal would make two important changes to the way that Connecticut handles drug offenses if it became law.
Two Key Changes
The first change that the Second Chance Society initiative would make is a reclassification of many drug offenses as misdemeanors. As long as there was no evidence of intent to sell, the possession of any drug would be treated as a misdemeanor under the new policy. This would minimize the number of non-violent offenders being funneled into the prison system. In particular, it would also give many offenders access to things like Connecticut’s pretrial diversion programs, special programs that focus more on rehabilitating offenders than on punishing them.
The second change would be the removal of mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession. Mandatory minimum sentences are sentencing rules set by the legislature. They impose sentencing floors that the sentence length cannot go below for certain crimes. Although legislatures initially introduced these measures in order to improve fairness in sentencing, people have discovered that they inhibit judges’ ability to hand down lenient sentences in cases that warrant it. In fact, mandatory minimums have already been reduced or eliminated in a diverse array of 11 states, including New York, Colorado, Georgia, and Oklahoma.
The Changes’ Rationale
These changes represent a shift in attitudes about the proper way for the criminal justice system to handle drug offenses that is occurring across the country. Many different states are recognizing that overcriminalization and long prison sentences can make it harder for offenders to reintegrate into society after they leave prison. This has led to a growth of rehabilitation programs, like Connecticut’s pretrial diversion programs, which are designed to punish drug offenders in a way that is commensurate with their crimes, while still helping them move past the offense rather than simply offend again.
The president himself has even taken steps to change this on the federal level. In 2013, he released new mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines through the Attorney General, with the goal of ensuring that the punishment for offenses fits the crime, but does not exceed it.
Importantly, this proposal is not yet law in Connecticut, and people facing drug charges can still be subject to serious penalties. If you have recently been charged with a drug crime, contact a Hartford, CT criminal defense attorney at Woolf Law Firm, LLC today.