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Committee Bill 6228 – An Act Prohibiting Institutions of Higher Education from Inquiring about a Prospective Student’s Criminal History

I’m here today to support 6228 — My name is Cindy Prizio and I am the Executive Director of One Standard of Justice (OSJ), a statewide civil rights advocacy organization. OSJ works with men and women arrested or convicted of sexual offenses and their families. I also identify as a member of a justice impacted family on both sides of the sexual offending issue.

We laud all efforts to broaden educational opportunities for people both inside prisons and back in our communities. Prisons may be the most violent places on earth. By providing educational opportunities, based not on the type of conviction, within Corrections and within our communities provides all people the ability to reach their potential and shed the counterproductive shame and stigma of a criminal record and instead finally have a chance to remove the “us vs them” mentality to a “we.” Our common ground among Connecticut’s citizens should be creating and sustaining safe communities. Education can be the turning point for citizens returning to our communities. Obtaining an education should be a basic need.  It certainly is pro social and hopefully provides for better employment opportunities so that our citizens returning from a period of incarceration can earn a living wage and one day support a family without depending on 2-3 jobs providing minimum wage.  Who wins here? All Connecticut citizens.

When reading the bill, the first thing that pops out is the use of dehumanizing labels, i.e. inmate. We strongly request person-first language be utilized. Person-first language supports a shift in thinking (and possibly actions) to support a more compassionate corrections system and eliminating some of the biases attached to people returning to their communities after time served.

While we understand the need for an administrative home for the Prison Education Program (the recommendation is within the DOC), we must request the hiring of an independent person to run the Prison Education Program Office. In this way the priorities of education can be maintained (adhered).

This “ban the box” bill, eliminating notification of criminal records when applying to an institution of higher learning, is critical to leveling the field. As a mother of a justice involved person, I believe we need to offer as much help and support including more financial aid and reduce or eliminate the barriers of pursuing an education as this can be a lifeline to those with no hope, no prospects of a better life.  Prison is meant to break you, suppress you and it succeeds for many.

This bill should help open the doors to more people in prisons continuing their education, make it easy to get into a state college or university without discrimination of a criminal record for all in spite of offense. Unfortunately my lived experience has shown this is not the case.  People with sexual assault convictions are not welcome or are put through onerous shaming processes to possibly become a student.

Current exclusionary practices at our public colleges are based on fear not fact. It is a fact that 95% of sexual crimes are being committed by people we don’t know— people who are not on a public registry and have never been charged with a sexual offense.  We as a state must hold ourselves accountable to place the emphasis on primary prevention, prevention and treatment rather than policies after the harm has been committed. We are treating harm with harm. We, OSJ, have been holding a webinar series for all 3 branches of government examining the real numbers around sexual offending recidivism. I have provided video links to the webinars below including the link to register for our next webinar on April 12, 2021, presented by Mary Koss Ph.D. et al: Experience from Practicing Restorative Justice for Sex Crimes: Trauma, Justice Needs, Participant Satisfaction, Equity, Law, and the Future.

Register in advance for this webinar:

Webinar Video – Dr. R. Karl Hanson: Sexual offense recidivism risk: Not what you think

Webinar Video – Katherine Gotch: Evidence-Based Reform: Finding New Ways Forward