Hartford Foundation submits testimony in support of House Bill 5127, An Act Requiring a Needs Assessment for the Delivery of Postsecondary Education Programs in Prisons

Read the Foundation's Testimony

On Thursday, February 22, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving submitted testimony to the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee in support of House Bill 5127, An Act Requiring a Needs Assessment for the Delivery of Postsecondary Education Programs in Prisons.

Most people in Connecticut prisons eventually return to their communities and need academic and training programs that can lead to good jobs. To effectively build on existing education and job training offerings in prison, the Connecticut Department of Correction would benefit from assessing additional staffing, facility space, and resources needed to meet the post-secondary education needs and services across its facilities. Providing these programs inside prisons is essential for the men and women to build the skills needed for successful reentry.

As part of our efforts to dismantle structural racism and advance equitable social and economic mobility for Black and Latine residents of Greater Hartford, the Hartford Foundation seeks to increase stable employment that advances careers for adults and youth in our region who often are left behind. This commitment requires us to educate, train, and retain talent, including underserved and underrepresented populations, to meet the needs of employers more fully and to support people in achieving their full potential.

The Foundation’s efforts focus on increasing training opportunities that lead to hiring and retaining residents with significant barriers to employment, including men and women returning from prison and opportunity youth disconnected from school and work. A longstanding best practice for education and other reentry supports is to begin in prison, ideally three to six months before release, when residents can focus on building their academic and industry skills. Building a continuum of education and support services pre- and post-release provides the essential support needed for successful reentry.

The Hartford Foundation has supported this work for many years. We know that the programs with public-private funding are better able to address the layers of need and sustain the work. Adequate public support is essential if we are to address the training and wraparound substance abuse counseling, and physical and mental health needs data show are prevalent in youth and adult reentry populations. No one entity can do this work alone. The work requires strong partnerships.

Research has demonstrated that people employed after release from incarceration are less likely to return to prison. Using time in prison to develop essential skills can increase the ability of people once released to qualify for better jobs. We need to be equally committed to ensuring basic education and workforce development programs the need for each participant to assess their drug and alcohol use and mental health challenges, and other basic needs essential to retaining jobs secured in the community and rebuilding their lives. This is an essential part of preparing to meet the demands of work and reentry. For these reasons, the Foundation offers its support of House Bill 5127 to assess the availability of postsecondary education programs in Connecticut correctional facilities.

Our investments in supporting returning citizens have reinforced the need to acknowledge key issues including:

  • The racial discrimination and stigma of incarceration can undermine the ability of returning citizens to successfully reenter the community and to access training, secure employment housing and other services.
  • With access to training that leads to quality jobs, people coming home from prison have the ability to make a successful transition and contribute to their families and community.

In order for community-based reentry workforce training programs to be truly effective, they should build on programming that people receive while in prison to support continuity and avoid duplication. The proposed assessment will provide guidance to DOC as to where there needs to be significant new investments in basic education and vocational programming, as well as post-secondary programs that include training to support soft skills that many employers see as critical in preparing people for entering the workforce. We encourage legislators to identify immediate as well as long-term resources that can enhance, support, and sustain programs in Connecticut’s correctional facilities that can address longstanding racial and economic disparities. We also urge legislators to address the need for additional resources to support the Department of Correction’s Unified School District #1 to ensure adequate basic education, career, and technical education programming to the approximately 2.800 students it serves annually.

While there is an array of community services available to returning citizens to ensure they are successful in the workplace, services that address individual needs critical to sustaining jobs, advancing career pathways, and successful reentry, more programs are needed pre-release. By assessing existing post-secondary programming in our correctional facilities, we can fully determine where additional resources are needed to build on existing efforts and successfully reintegrate and contribute to their communities.

In November 2023, Hartford Foundation staff toured the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution to learn more about the educational and vocational training provided at the facility. We were impressed with the dedication and enthusiasm of staff and program participants. It was clear that the programs need a significant infusion of resources and additional staffing to enhance course materials and reach a larger number of residents. We recommend the Committee consider with DOC immediate funding needs that can address critical needs for its education programs, including funding to conduct a thorough assessment to avoid straining the limited facility staff and resources.

The Foundation is eager to partner with legislators, government partners, advocates, and businesses to eliminate barriers to employment and access to education support for returning citizens to ensure that all residents have an opportunity to participate in the workforce, achieve economic stability, and have opportunities to reach their potential, thrive and enhance Connecticut’s economy.