Connecticut recieves $2.5 million MacArthur grant to improve justice system

Connecticut was the only state to receive a MacArthur grant to reduce prison populations and reform the justice system. The 10 other areas MacArthur gave money to were all specific cities, such as Philadelphia and New Orleans. (Flickr/Matthias Müller)

This year, Connecticut was the only state to receive a MacArthur grant in order to reduce their prison population and enact other criminal justice reforms. 

The $2.5 million grant awarded to Connecticut lasts two years and comes alongside approximately $25 million in grant money to 11 total jurisdictions. None of the grants exceeded $3.5 million and the 10 other areas MacArthur gave money to were all specific cities, such as Philadelphia and New Orleans.

The grant comes from the charitable John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which “supports creative people, effective institutions and influential networks building a more just, verdant and peaceful world,” according to its website.

When the $75 million, five-year grant competition was announced last year, 200 jurisdictions spanning 45 states applied. 20 won in 2015, and out of those 20, 11 won the current, more lucrative round of funding.

Lauri Garduque, who is leading the enterprise for the MacArthur Foundation, explained the idea behind it.  

“The foundation’s goal is to change the way the nation thinks about and uses jails,” she said. “The whole idea of the initiative is to model best practices, have models of reform, so that other jurisdictions can implement them on their own.”

Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management, an arm of the Governor’s office, sent in a Justice Challenge Grant Proposal last year.

All of Connecticut’s prisons are state-run. Part of the reason why Connecticut won a MacArthur grant was because of its progressive programs, such as having the mentally-ill avoid jail in favor of “a community-based release plan,” as well as state help in posting bail, according to the Safety and Justice Connecticut-centered webpage.

The overall goal of the distributed grants is to decrease the average jail population. In Connecticut, the main focus will be on the cities of New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford. The money is also meant to combat the racial bias found in the Connecticut criminal justice system.

“…the state will expand implicit bias training in all three cities and will undergo an evaluation of current racial and ethnic disparities to establish a baseline for improvement,” the comprehensive webpage reads. “The Hartford Alternative to Arrest Project will provide alternatives for individuals with mental health, substance abuse and housing needs, and is anticipated to help 800 individuals avoid jail over the next two years.”

Connecticut also plans to develop its Jail Diversion Substance Abuse Program, which would move defendants from pretrial detention to either residential treatment or detox.

In Connecticut, out of a state population of 3,600,000, there is a jail capacity of 4,684. On average, pretrial detentions in Connecticut jails last six weeks.

In New Haven – a city that the grant hopes to target – black people are 33 percent of the total population, yet 56 percent of arrests. This type of racial discrimination is rampant in Hartford and Bridgeport as well. 

Nationwide, 75 percent of people in jail are there for nonviolent reasons, like public order violations, property crimes, drug felonies and traffic offenses. Blacks and Hispanics, all told, make up more than half (51 percent) of those in jail in the U.S.

Last year, when Connecticut won the smaller, $150,000 grant, Mike Lawlor, Gov. Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice, spoke to the importance of the MacArthur Foundation’s money and Connecticut’s efforts. 

"Trying to prevent things on the front end is much easier than waiting until after people have served 10 years," Lawlor said. "If we can make an impact at that stage, it is less likely that they will come back down the road.

This year, Connecticut’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is expressing their satisfaction with the grant and its upcoming effects. 

“This grant is fantastic news for justice and equality in Connecticut,” David McGuire, the legislative and policy director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said in a statement last week. “The ACLU of Connecticut strongly believes that our state needs a more humane justice system…Today, jails have become places to send people with nowhere else to go, including people who are homeless, in mental health crises or tormented by addiction. This broken, unjust system also disproportionately jails minorities.”


Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sten.spinella@uconn.edu. He tweets @SSpinella927.