Unions For Prison Workers Take Aim At State

May 19, 2011

Unions representing correctional workers have begun an ad campaign taking on the state's prison policies.  But as WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, the state says the union ads miss the mark. Drive on the state's highways in Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury, and you might see the blue billboards. Turn on the radio, and you might hear this: "The state is closing prisons to save money.  2,000 inmates and counting have been set free and are now walking the streets. And guess what?  The state wants to shut down even more prisons -- that can only mean more criminals coming to a street near you..." The media campaign by unions representing correctional workers began earlier this month as negotiators and the state were still in concessions talks. Lisamarie Fontano is the president of one of the union locals. "Our campaign was launched during delicate negotiations, but the issue is safety and security.  The legislation in our government is choosing to put money over safety." But  the state says the unions are misinformed. "The billboards really aren't accurate."  That's Mike Lawlor, Governor Dannel Malloy's head of criminal justice policy and planning.  He says it's true that the state has closed some prisons and could close more -- but that, he says, has nothing to do with policy changes and everything to do with the fact that the the prison population is on a natural decline. "What has been going in Connecticut for three years now is the prison population is steadily declining.  In fact, this is happening in a number of states -- the crime rate generally speaking is down, the number of arrests are down, so naturally the prison population has started to drop." Lawlor also says that 80 percent of the people released since early last fall were pre-trial -- meaning they hadn't yet had their day in court. "The vast majority of the drop of the prison population is because fewer people are coming into prison, not because anybody's being let out early." The union's ad campaign will continue throughout the month. For WNPR, I'm Jeff Cohen.