Before the Hartford Reentry Welcome Center opened, people in the city fresh out of prison didn’t have one central place where they could find housing, counseling or even a clean, safe place to use the bathroom. Now, they do. The center - located in City Hall - is a partnership between Community Partners in Action, the City of Hartford, the Department of Corrections and more than 40 local organizations.
According to a 2014 Connecticut Office of Policy and Management report, 53% of the 11,245 men and women who were released from prison in 2014 were back in prison within three years and 60% were rearrested. First Lady Cathy Malloy says spending time with inmates in prisons across the state has helped her understand the challenges that they face when re-entering the community.
“Here in the city, which both sends and receives the largest share in our prison system," said Malloy. "We have a responsibility to help returning citizens succeed.”
Despite some public criticism, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin says that the center not only belongs in city hall—he’s proud that it’s there.
"Those who are coming for help here are the brothers and sisters and mothers and sons and daughters of those in our community," Bronin said. "They are our neighbors. They are our community. And we don’t get better or stronger as a society or as a city by hiding the hard stuff."
Adult and youth ex-offenders who've been released to the community without parole or probation are eligible to use the center and its resources as long as they're within 90 days of their end of sentence (EOS). Once they're dropped off at the center by the Department of Corrections, an intake form must be filled out so that the staff can assess which resources are needed. Complimentary backpacks stuffed with toiletries, a towel set and other basic items are available as well.
Stephanie Harris-Adkins remembers feeling frightened when she got out of prison. It was 1996 and she’d spent four and half years behind bars.
"I didn’t know what to expect and I couldn’t share that with people because I was supposed to be so excited that I was home," Harris-Adkins said. "Having a little bit of therapy now, I can look back and say I was totally anxious and totally depressed—that was normal functioning for me, that was my baseline."
Harris is now a Community Partners in Action board member and licensed clinical social worker. She says that CPA helped connect her to resources that she needed without passing judgement. The center officially opens Monday morning.