WETHERSFIELD, Conn. (AP) — A prison is being planned in Connecticut that officials say would be the first of its kind in the country to exclusively house and deal with issues unique to inmates between the ages of 18 and 25.
The staff at the prison would receive special training in dealing with younger inmates, and the programming at the prison would focus on the brain development of young adults, the state’s correction commissioner, Scott Semple, told The Associated Press.
“This is the most impulsive population,” he said. “They tend to be involved in more assaults and things of that nature and what we are trying to do is impact that.”
He said the prison also would protect the younger inmates from abuse and manipulation by older prisoners.
The prison will be based on a model he saw in Germany this summer on a trip with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Semple said.
The department is seeking input from educational and other experts and is looking at a behavior-modification curriculum that the Department of Children and Families uses with youthful offenders to determine if some of that would work in the prison.
“What I envision is that incident rates will go down systemwide,” he said. “It also gives us the greatest potential to reduce the recidivism rate in a large way.”
Nicholas Turner, the president of the Vera Institute of Justice, a national criminal-justice policy nonprofit, confirmed the prison would be a first for the United States and said others will be watching closely to see how it works.
“In order to truly move from a system rooted in retribution and punishment to one that prioritizes rehabilitation and the protection of human dignity, we must reconsider a ‘one size fits all’ approach, particularly with the people in our justice system who have the most ahead of them,” he said.
New York City announced plans in September to move over 1,000 inmates ages 18 to 21 to a new unit at Rikers Island, and other states including Florida, Maine, Colorado and Massachusetts have facilities for young adults.
But the Connecticut facility would be the first full prison to focus on youth brain development.
B.J. Casey, the director of the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Cornell University, said she is pleased that Connecticut has decided to take into consideration developmental changes in young people when dealing with their rehabilitation.
“I hope with these changes that special attention will be given for opportunities for these individuals to engage in prosocial behavior and to have prosocial role models in preparation for their transition back into society,” she said.
There are currently 3,092 inmates between 18 and 25 in the prison system out of a population of 15,807. The department said 635 of those inmates are 25.
Semple said the move does not require legislative approval. He said he will look at the prison system’s own budget for funds before asking for any additional money and plans to use one of the state’s 18 existing prisons.
“Some things we’re going to have find resources for,” he said. “It is going to require specialty training for the staff.”
He said he also plans to set up a similar unit at the York prison for women. Plans call for the prison to open by January 2017, though officials have not yet decided which facility to convert.
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