The Beginning

In 2014, at the IMRP’s annual Building Bridges conference, we first learned of Vera’s European-American Prison Project. The genesis of this work began at the Prison Law Office of California, where the director was inspired by the “innovative and humane approaches to sentencing, treatment and prison reform.”

Learn more about the event here.

Connecticut’s first trip overseas: Germany 2015

A governor, a commissioner and a new take on prison

Following Vera’s presentation at the 2014 Building Bridges conference, in June 2015 then Governor Dannel Malloy and Corrections Commissioner Scott Semple were invited to explore the German prison system in person. According to a January 2016 CT Mirror article, the Governor’s main takeaway: “They actually want to reform people,” Malloy said. “We concentrate on retribution here, as opposed to reform.” Following the experience, a set of new initiatives was launched at the Connecticut Department of Correction.

A Connecticut Governor “Reimagining Justice”

As Connecticut began to reform elements of its correctional system to mirror elements found in Germany, conversations continued throughout the state as to the scope and nature of these reforms.  In 2017, Governor and First Lady Cathy Malloy hosted the Reimagining Justice conference, which highlighted recent changes in the approach to youth justice for those under 25.

Confronting Re-Entry: Preparing for success?

This was followed by an exploration of individuals facing re-entry in Connecticut through the PBS Frontline Documentary: Life on Parole. For over a year, the IMRP partnered with local organizations to host screenings and panel discussions of this documentary.

Re-Entry and The New Jim Crow

Race and the United States legacy of slavery is often seen as an impediment for enacting significant, less-retributive reforms here in Connecticut and throughout the country.  In 2018, the IMRP’s Building Bridges Reframed conference brought the issues of race, social control, and mass incarceration to the fore as keynote speaker Michelle Alexander’s seminal work, The New Jim Crow, served as a backdrop for the day’s discussions.  The afternoon panel, “Re-entry: A Pathway to Success into a Welcoming Community,” explored some of the changes within DOC since the 2016 trip to Germany, including a look at the one-year anniversary of the T.R.U.E unit for 18- to 25-year-olds. It also asked the question, “How do these changes reflect the transition of those on the inside to their new life on the outside?”

A New Reentry Strategy

In December 2018, the IMRP and the CT Reentry Collaborative produced the state’s first statewide  Reentry Strategy since 2011.  This report tied together Connecticut’s justice reforms since the early 2000’s, starting with the Justice Reinvestment Initiative and culminating with the outgoing Governor’s Second Chance Initiative.  It also proffered that, “Another shift worth consideration is one highlighted by Connecticut’s relatively recent examination of European justice systems. These systems have significantly lower incarceration and recidivism rates than those of any American jurisdiction. These outcomes are primarily due to focusing the work in prison to that of normalization and reintegration, and hence successful reentry. The main driver of these outcomes is a philosophy of the justice system that sees the taking away of freedom as punishment, while the focus of life in prison as that of rehabilitation and reintegration.”

Decarceration and Justice Reinvestment: Setting the stage for further reform

In March 2019, the Building Bridges: Decarceration and the Community conference gave a nod to Connecticut’s nationwide- leading decarceration trend, but also challenged participants to fully realize Justice Reinvestment and ensure successful reintegration of those leaving incarceration.

During this time period, throughout the country more and more individuals were being exposed to the humane, restorative and effective justice systems in Western Europe – Germany and Norway, in particular. The IMRP continued to gather information on these systems, with the hopes of gaining greater direct access for purposes of an ongoing international exchange of ideas and experiences. More information about this event can be found here.

Our First Norwegian Contact

In February 2020, MSW social work intern at the IMRP, Kelley Ladd, introduced the IMRP to Elin Schie, Assistant Prison Governor at the prisons in Mysen, Norway. Through email, Ms. Ladd shared that, “I spoke with a friend who happens to know a security guard at a prison near his house. The security guard spoke with his supervisor.  Her name is Elin Schie.  She works at the prisons in Mysen & Trøgstad Prison.  She is aware that we may want to reach out to her via phone to ask her some more philosophical questions about the Norwegian prison system inducing their beliefs, values, etc.”  A phone call was set up for the 18th of February, but was postponed due to illness…

Covid-19: Connecticut At The Crossroads

In March 2021, the IMRP and the University Network for Human Rights released Connecticut at the Crossroads. In light of the pandemic and the CT State budget crisis, the report made a set of recommendations, each of which is undergirded by international standards and human rights norms – as found in both the Norwegian and German justice systems.

More information about this event can be found here.

International Justice Exchange is launched

In the Spring of 2022, IMRP expanded its international work by establishing relationships with leaders in corrections across the Atlantic. This included the IMRP sponsorship of three webinars on Norway’s corrections systems as rehabilitation, as well as a July 2022 Connecticut/Baden-Württemberg Human Rights Research Consortium (HRRC) workshop in Tübingen, Germany, where Director Clark met with the former director of the Criminology Institute of the University of Tübingen, Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Wulf. These conversations influenced the IMRP’s first trip to Norway.  The International Justice Exchange project was officially established.

Learning from Norway: Our First Webinar

In Part I, we heard from Professor Thomas Uglevik of the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law at the University of Oslo, John Todd-Kvam, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Norwegian Centre for Addiction Research, James Jeter, Co-founder of Full Citizens Coalition, and Program Director at Civic Ally-ship at Dwight Hall at Yale University, Barbara Fair, a LCSW and lead organizer at Stop Solitary, CT, and Mike Lawlor, J.D., Associate professor of Criminal Justice Department at Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Science. The conversation was moderated by IMRP’s director, Andrew Clark, and Dr. Danielle Cooper.

Our second Webinar

In Part II, we heard from Elin Schie, Chief Prison Officer at Indre Ostfold Prison in Norway along with two other prison staff: Sander and James, Christina Quaranta, Executive Director of CT Justice Alliance, and Robert Gillis a retiree from The Department of Corrections in CT. The conversation was moderated by Kelan Lyons of the CT Mirror.

Our Third Webinar

In Part III: The Rights of the Child, In this conversation, we heard from Per Sigurd Våge, Director of the Western Region of the Norwegian Correctional Service and Per Omdal, Former Assistant Prison Governor, Bjørgvin Prison Youth Unit West. These experts shared a powerful presentation about their experience building, designing, and working within the youth justice system in Norway. Their presentation was followed by a moderated panel discussion.

Our First Trip To Norway

Bergen Prison in Bergen, Norway

IMRP arranged for a coalition of 13 local stakeholders, along with journalists from CT Public to Norway during the winter of 2022. During this weeklong trip, the coalition visited three different types of Norwegian prisons: women’s, youth, and open/closed systems, as well as a halfway house. They also heard from academics, practitioners, and NGOs who presented a background on the Norwegian justice system up to the present day. The purpose of visiting each institution is to understand and document their unique functions, values, policies, and culture through a diverse lens of stakeholders.