For years Connecticut's cities have endured shooting rampages without any governor or the public taking notice, mayhem being accepted as part of city life. But the violent weekend in Hartford June 9 and 10, in which two people were shot to death and 10 others wounded, more than caught the attention of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Noting that 94 of the 129 murders committed in Connecticut last year happened just in Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport, the governor has directed state police, prison, and parole officials to work with police in those cities in a program of "focused deterrence." It aims to put intense surveillance on the small group of criminals believed responsible for most gun crimes - people with substantial records and in many cases free on parole or probation.
The governor is vague about the program's details, partly for security reasons. And the program doesn't seem quite consistent with his administration's efforts to reduce Connecticut's prison population and get more offenders out on parole. But if police and probation authorities really can identify the parolees posing the highest risk, the program might accomplish something. It might accomplish a lot more if it was expanded along the lines of the hint offered by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra about jobs for the unemployed. After all, most of the troublesome people here got into prison because they have no special job skills and found crime easier, and they come out of prison hardly improved, only to be dropped into an economy with few prospects.
The best "focused deterrence" for these people might be a period of mandatory employment with state or municipal government and a room in a halfway house or a "supportive housing" facility where they would report to a parole officer and account for themselves every day, with any failure requiring return to prison. State government and municipal governments have infinite use for manual labor, and with some training such positions could develop into apprenticeships in higher-skilled work.
Of course public employee unions would viciously begrudge the intrusion on their monopoly, and some taxpayers might complain that crime had become a path to employment. But prison terms of more than six months profoundly damage already doubtful lives. What alternative is there?
Connecticut has lots of experience pretending that its criminals have been rehabilitated. That's what the atrocity in Cheshire in 2007, the murder of the Petit family, was about. If, as the governor suggests, closer surveillance of certain parolees is required to protect the public, it's not likely to work without a steady job and a room for each parolee and someone checking on him every day.