CHESHIRE – An experimental prison program at Cheshire Correctional Institution is getting national attention for its efforts to reduce recidivism among young convicts.
This Sunday, CBS is airing a 60 Minutes episode on the TRUE unit at the Cheshire prison. The two year old program was created after former governor Dannel Malloy and other prison officials visited Germany to see how that country handles incarceration.
TRUE stands for truthfulness, respecting, understanding and elevating.
The program operates in a separate unit of the prison, taking in young offenders from the general population who qualify and pairing them with older inmate mentors. Inmates are given more responsibilities and the unit has a more relaxed atmosphere.
Andrius Banevicius, state Department of Correction spokesman, said South Carolina and Massachusetts have established similar units and expected other states to follow.
“There are a lot of other (states) and organizations that come through to tour the facility,” he said.
The department doesn’t yet have enough data to determine if recidivism is lower among the TRUE unit. Such data is collected after inmates have been out for three years and the unit is only two years old, Banevicius said.
The unit’s population has fewer discipline incidents than the prison at large.
“Historically across the agency that age group is responsible for roughly 25 percent of the incidents that happen. The rate is much, much lower within the TRUE unit,” Banevicius said.
The Vera Institute of Justice, a non-profit that advocates on criminal justice issues, supported the unit’s creation. Representatives from the group accompanied state officials on their trip to Germany four years ago.
The experimental unit was one of several criminal justice reform efforts pushed by Malloy during his tenure. The effort attracted little opposition from those otherwise opposed to Malloy’s changes, such as former senator and Republican Len Suzio, who supported the TRUE unit initiative but clashed with the governor on most of his criminal justice projects.
State Rep. Liz Linehan, a Democrat representing Cheshire, said the TRUE unit was innovative and made sense. She would like to see it implemented statewide. Linehan toured the TRUE unit and spoke to inmates.
“They almost felt as if the older inmates that they were paired with took on a father figure role,” Linehan said. “They honestly believed that a lot of the reason they’re in the circumstances they’re in was that they didn’t have good parental involvement.”
State Rep. Craig Fishbein, a Republican representing Wallingford, said he didn’t have enough information on the unit to comment. Republican senators Rob Sampson, who is on the General Assembly’s judiciary committee, and Len Fasano couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
With the change of administration and a new prison commissioner, Banevicius said the TRUE unit model is still a focus. The state has similar program for women at York Correctional Institution.
“We’re going to continue with the efforts and hopefully build off its success,” he said.
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