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Box Office Revives Puritan Play, The Gallows

FILM REVIEW — Scary movies with a puritan theme is a rare commodity at the box office. So it’s a surprise to see a relatively successful showing of this genre in North American theaters, raking in about $21 million in two weeks. In other territories, it garnered $9.4 million and raked in an impressive worldwide total of $30.8 million against a budget of $100,000.

Not bad for a small-budget film with a familiar horror template,based on a real-life tragedy.

Beatrice High School’s most infamous stage production was revived with budding thespian Pfeifer Ross, who plays the high school kid, Charile Grimmel.  The film begins October 1993 at Beatrice High  in Beatrice, Nebraska, with production of  “The Gallows.” Grimille’s parents, delighted about their son’s performance, record the play. In the third act, Charlie’s character is set to be hanged at the gallows.  Then tragedy strikes as the door beneath Charlie’s feet opens and he falls through with a noose around his neck. He died of strangulation in front of his co-stars and the  audience.

Twenty years later, a student at the same school, arrogant football player Ryan Shoos tapes his good-natured friend (and the events of the film) Reese as he is in a production of “The Gallows” playing the same character Charlie played. Reese acts alongside his crush Pfeifer,

The Gallows ended with the death of  Grimmell with leading man, Reese Houser. He plays a former football star who lacks acting talent but tried out for the play. He died in a deadly freak accident at a high school play in Nebraska.

The film is  a mash up of The Blair Witch Project and Brian De Palma’s horror movie, Phantom of the Paradise.

Directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Louflin,  The Gallows serves up a modicum of scare on the scare-o-meter: The scares consist of moving objects and sound effects with lots of bloody and fear-inducing scenes.

However, it’s a story best left in the past.


Movie Review by Fran Wilson




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New Hampshire Unveils Pumpkin Festival Line Up

By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

NEW HAMPSHIRE — New Hampshire is gearing up for its 25th  this fall.

As pumpkin plants around the northeast are just beginning to bloom, the organizers —  Let it Shine, Inc., and Sterling Design & Communications — will collaborate  with the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce to provide  programming for Pumpkin Festival 2015. The 2015 Pumpkin Festival runs from 10am-8:30pm on Saturday, Oct. 24 in the heart of NH, downtown Laconia.

Presented by ZIPPO, this is the first year it will take place in downtown Laconia. Following are the schedule for what officials say is a program that may vie for  Guinness World Record for the most lit jack-o-lanterns in one place–record recaptured from Boston by Keene in 2013. A total of 30,581 jack-o-lanterns were reported.

The Runaway Pumpkin 10k & 5k Run/Walk 9 a.m.
Location: Laconia Athletic & Swim Club, 827 North Main Street, Laconia
Before the festival, first thing in the morning, a choice of distances, welcoming walkers as well as serious runners to this scenic course which includes the WOW Trail WOW is an acronym for the three lakes along the rail trail, Winnipesaukee, Winnisquam and Opechee.

Pumpkin-festival-2015-thehartfordguardianPronounced “Pumpkin Alley,” it’s Pump-Canal(y) Street for Kids
If renowned area artist Larry Frates achieves his vision, Laconia’s Canal Street will be orange from one end to the other with activities for kids and creative types of all ages. Shops on the street have their own special pumpkin plans, so do not miss this street in your explorations of Pumpkin Festival 2015.

Haunted Attractions for that Special Thrill
The Belknap Mill, the oldest, unaltered brick textile mill in the United States, has plenty of history to draw from for its planned haunted mill attraction. Stay tuned for details! And across town, the UCC/Congregational Church plans to send chills up many a visitor’s spine too.

ZIPPO, Official Lighter of Pumpkin Festival
In addition to hosting the Welcome Center near the Railroad Station, ZIPPO will be offering their official candle lighters for sale at their booth and at the Pumpkin Shop/s where festival logo souvenir t-shirts and other experience extenders can also be purchased.

The Pump(kin) Dump Derby 8:30pm
A race to clean up Pumpkin Festival involving competing teams, lottery-assigned territories and a grand prize $1000 to the team’s charity of choice. All teams who complete their territory win $100 for the charity of their choice. Sponsored by Shipyard Brewing.

Spectacular Pumpkin Tower Plus Thousands of Jack-o’-Lanterns on Street-level Displays

The signature tower is the centerpiece of Pumpkin Festival 2015. Streets will be lined with pumpkins and pumpkin spectators, for smooth strolling and the best viewing, unfettered by vendor booths and queues. Families and seniors will feel very welcome and handicap parking in excellent locations makes access easy. Live musical entertainment will add to the atmosphere on the bandstand and at other selected locations but the sights will carry the day!

More information will be posted as available online at

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What Does the Anthem-Cigna Deal Mean for Consumers?

The announcement Friday that Anthem Inc. plans to buy Bloomfield-based Cigna Corp. comes amid a period of rapid consolidation in the health care industry that some observers have likened to an arms race.

Hospitals – seeking, among other things, greater leverage in negotiating with insurers – have increasingly been joining larger systems, while the insurance industry – already concentrated in many states – is poised to undergo even more consolidation.

Where does that leave consumers?

“That’s the million dollar question right now,” said Jim Wadleigh, chief executive of Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT.

Experts say potential benefits of consolidation include economies of scale that can lead to reduced costs, while potential drawbacks include reduced competition that could have the opposite effect on prices.

“The [question] that everyone is worried about is, are these hospital systems just going to make money, or are the carriers just going to make more money and leave the consumer behind and ultimately not reaping the reward?” Wadleigh said.

The Anthem-Cigna deal follows the announcement earlier this month that Hartford-based Aetna had reached an agreement to buy Humana. Both deals must be reviewed by federal and state regulators in what could be lengthy processes. Anthem and Cigna said Friday they expect the acquisition to close in the second half of 2016.

“It in some sense makes sense to have companies come together, but obviously we need to make sure there’s enough competition in the marketplace and that people have choices,” Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Katharine L. Wade said in an interview earlier this week. “As things present, we’ll all be looking very closely at this.”

Anthem, Cigna and the Connecticut market

In announcing the agreement Friday, Anthem and Cigna executives emphasized the potential for the combined company to drive changes in health care delivery, manage the cost of care and offer affordable insurance. The companies said they anticipated $2 billion in “synergies” – savings – within two years of closing the deal.

Nationally, Anthem has 38.5 million members, while Cigna has 14.5 million.

In Connecticut, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield had nearly 1.16 million customers in 2013, while Cigna covered 483,363 people in the state, according to the most recent figures available from the Connecticut Insurance Department. Anthem had nearly 49 percent of the private insurance market, while Cigna covered 20 percent of customers.

But the two companies overlap only in certain parts of the market. Cigna has minimal presence in the state’s individual market – it currently has 317 policies in effect – and does not sell plans through the state’s small-group market, while Anthem is a leading carrier in both markets.

Will it affect prices?

This is a picture of Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Katharine L. Wade.

While the companies emphasized affordability, some critics raised concerns that growing market power could lead to increased prices for consumers.

“The combined effect of these mergers will reduce the number of large, national health insurance providers from five to three – limiting access to affordable health care and raising premiums,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement. “These mergers must be seriously scrutinized to ensure that consumers and health care providers are protected from mega-insurer market power abuse.”

Some research indicates that premiums have gone up after past insurance company consolidation. But it’s not clear how applicable that research is to current conditions because of the significant changes created by the federal health law, said Sabrina Corlette, senior research fellow and project director at the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute.

“I think there’s really no good current research out there that helps us say definitively what might happen,” she said.

Corlette said the impact could vary by market. Because Humana has a large presence in Medicare plans, for example, she said that market could be particularly affected by Aetna’s acquisition of the company, while the product of an Anthem-Cigna transaction could be particularly strong in the employer market.

Consolidation can give insurers more leverage in negotiating what they will pay health care providers for care, which is a major factor in the cost of insurance.

In some areas, dominant hospital systems can now drive price negotiations, since insurers can’t afford to not have those hospitals in their networks, experts said.

In theory, consolidation among insurers could counter the bargaining power that dominant hospital systems have, said John Aloysius Cogan Jr., a professor at the UConn School of Law and a former Rhode Island insurance regulator. But, he added, that’s not a foregone conclusion, and hasn’t been the case in some markets with one dominant insurer.

Cogan noted that hospital-insurer negotiations are among the few areas of health care that are not regulated.

“I’m not so sure that this is going to make things better,” Cogan said of insurance company consolidation. “I don’t know that it’s going to make things worse. There’s already a pretty unhealthy dynamic in the mechanisms in the market that establish prices.”

While the number of major national insurers could drop if the Aetna and Anthem purchases go through, Wadleigh said Connecticut’s insurance industry is “pretty diverse.” Massachusetts-based Harvard Pilgrim Health Care recently entered the market, while HealthyCT began operating in 2014. Farmington-based ConnectiCare now has the most customers in the state’s individual market.

But Wadleigh said he’s been hearing that across the country, regional insurers are getting nervous about their ability to remain competitive. “Those are some of the things that I will always be on the lookout for to make sure that all of our carriers have some sort of even playing field so they can represent all of our customers equally,” he said.

Connecticut’s insurance department will review the proposed transaction and evaluate, among other things, whether it would substantially reduce competition in any line of business. The deal is also subject to approval by the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission.

Wade, Connecticut’s commissioner, worked for Cigna for 21 years and her husband is an attorney at the company. Asked earlier this week if she would participate in any regulatory action related to the company, Wade said she would determine that “when the facts of the situation present itself.”

Cigna’s presence in Connecticut

Catherine Smith, commissioner of community and economic development.

For Connecticut, there’s another consideration: Cigna employs thousands of people in the state. The company made Bloomfield its corporate home in 2011 as part of a deal with the state worth between $47 million and $71 million. In exchange for tax credits, a loan and job training grants, Cigna promised to create at least 200 jobs within two years, maintain its 3,883 Connecticut jobs and make at least $100 million in technology and real-estate investments.

Among other things, the agreement requires Cigna to maintain its Bloomfield and Windsor operations for at least 10 years. If the company were to relocate those operations outside the state during that period, it would have to repay all tax credits and funding provided by the state.

Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith said Friday that her agency would be in a “wait and see mode” while the two companies determine how to integrate, but hopes to talk to them when they’re ready about the “benefits of being in the state.” Smith said the state has the advantage of having a “deep pool of talent” in the industry as well as legal, accounting and actuarial firms with expertise in insurance. And she noted that Anthem and Cigna don’t serve overlapping customers.

“We’re optimistic they need a lot of those employees, that they will end up retaining a large footprint here,” she said.

The announcement Friday that Anthem Inc. plans to buy Bloomfield-based Cigna Corp. comes amid a period of rapid consolidation in the health care industry that some observers have likened to an arms race.

Hospitals – seeking, among other things, greater leverage in negotiating with insurers – have increasingly been joining larger systems, while the insurance industry – already concentrated in many states – is poised to undergo even more consolidation.

Where does that leave consumers?

“That’s the million dollar question right now,” said Jim Wadleigh, chief executive of Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT.

Experts say potential benefits of consolidation include economies of scale that can lead to reduced costs, while potential drawbacks include reduced competition that could have the opposite effect on prices.

“The [question] that everyone is worried about is, are these hospital systems just going to make money, or are the carriers just going to make more money and leave the consumer behind and ultimately not reaping the reward?” Wadleigh said.

The Anthem-Cigna deal follows the announcement earlier this month that Hartford-based Aetna had reached an agreement to buy Humana. Both deals must be reviewed by federal and state regulators in what could be lengthy processes. Anthem and Cigna said Friday they expect the acquisition to close in the second half of 2016.

“It in some sense makes sense to have companies come together, but obviously we need to make sure there’s enough competition in the marketplace and that people have choices,” Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Katharine L. Wade said in an interview earlier this week. “As things present, we’ll all be looking very closely at this.”

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President Obama Visits Kenya, Says Africa is On the Move

By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

President Barack Obama on Friday made his first official trip to his father’s homeland: Kenya.

Despite a security breach and other concerns, Obama reunited with his 96-year-old grandmother Sarah Obama and his sister Auma Obama in Nairobi. This is the first public–and long sought after–visit with his African relatives since his ascendancy to the White House.

“It was a wonderful time,” Obama said  after spending time with his relatives this weekend. He said he will have “more freedom to reconnect” when he’s no longer president.


His homecoming in Nairobi, Kenya also included the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi. His three-day visit to Kenya will address business and investment and the region’s security threats.

At the summit, he urged equal rights for gays and lesbians in Africa and more opportunities for women and girls.

“When a government gets in the habit of treating people differently, those habits can spread,” Obama said during a joint news conference Saturday with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

However, his host Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta disagreed and said gay rights was a “non-issue.”

Gay rights are “not really an issue on the foremost mind of Kenyans. And that is a fact,” he said.

To aid Kenya’s economic trajectory, Obama announced more than $1 billion new commitments from the U.S. government, as well as American banks, foundations and philanthropists. Half of the money, White House officials said, will go to support women and young people, who Obama says face bigger obstacles when trying to start businesses in a growing economy. Africa, Obama said, is one of the fastest growing regions in the world.

He also visited Memorial Park Saturday for a wreath laying ceremony in honor of the victims of the deadly 1998 bombing at the U.S. Embassy.

While in Kenya, Obama is also scheduled to meet civil society groups to discuss human rights and civil liberties.

Obama first visited Kenya three decades ago and then in 2006 as a senator in Chicago.

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Attorney General Loretta Lynch Visits Connecticut, Calls for ‘Respectful Policing”

loretta lynch--visits-connecticutEAST HAVEN —  As part of a national community policing tour. U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch visits East Haven. She was joined by Police Chief Brent Larrabee and Connecticut U.S. Attorney Deirdre M. Daly during a forum inside East Haven High School.

The participants discussed how police can improve relationships with the communities they serve.

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Obama Unveils Quicker Family Reunification for Filipino WWII Vets

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House responded to years of pressure from immigrant rights groups on Wednesday with an announcement of a new policy that will expedite the process of bringing certain family members of Filipino veterans of World War II to the United States.

The policy, announced along with a number of other efforts that are a part of President Obama’s executive actions to improve the U.S. immigration system, would skip the long wait times— sometimes more than 25 years — for family members of these Filipino veterans, who are now American citizens or legal permanent residents, to immigrate legally to the U.S.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State, according to the White House, “will work together to provide clear guidance to the public on the application process, and decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.”

Advocates for the policy directive immediately hailed the announcement, hoping that it will be implemented soon.

Day to celebrate

“This is the day to celebrate,” said Mee Moua, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC).

In 1941, more than 260,000 Filipinos responded to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s call to fight side-by-side with American soldiers during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. After the war, in 1945, Roosevelt promised these Filipino veterans U.S. citizenship and veterans’ benefits.

But it took nearly 50 years for the U.S. government to grant citizenship to Filipino veterans, in 1990, and since then they have been waiting for their children to join them in the U.S.

And because the U.S. government puts limits on visas so that each country can only receive 7 percent of the 226,000 family-sponsored available visas every year, the wait for Filipino American families can exceed many years or even decades.

Of the 4.2 million people waiting for family-sponsored visas, nearly one-third are from Asian countries, including the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and Vietnam.

Inhumanely long backlog

“Until now, the inhumanely long visa backlog has separated them [Filipino veterans] from their children and denied them the opportunity to live together in the United States,” Moua added. “It’s long past time the U.S. made good on its promise and we hope [the] USCIS will implement this as quickly as possible.”

“We are extremely pleased to hear the good news coming from the White House, that Filipino World War II Veterans will soon be reunited with their families,” said JT Mallonga, national chair of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations.

Mallonga added, “They have endured so much pain waiting for many years for this to happen. But with this latest executive action by the Obama administration, our ailing and aging heroes will no longer be separated from their loved ones.”

Estimates indicate that there are about 6,000 Filipino veterans of World War II who are still alive in the United States today. Now in their 80s and 90s, most of them need the care and assistance of their families, and they long to reunite with their family members during their golden years.

Parole as an avenue

“Parole is an avenue provided under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that allows individuals to come to the United States for a temporary period of time,” according to the White House announcement, “based upon urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.”

However, the Obama administration has not provided any specific details on the eligibility requirements of the policy, or when will it be implemented. Considering it is part of Obama’s executive actions, many are concerned that the policy may no longer be enforced once his presidential term ends in 2016.

Recognizing the challenges ahead, Erin Oshiro, AAJC’s immigration and immigrant rights program director, says that advocacy groups are now reaching out to the administration and putting more pressure to move forward with the implementation of the new family reunification policy for Filipino veterans.

“It never moved quickly in D.C. Time is really of the essence here,” Oshiro added. “But this is an opportunity for us and the community to weigh in and ask the White House to make this program possible.”

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CT Unemployment Rate Hits Lowest Mark Since July 2008

HARTFORD — Connecticut’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.7 percent in June, its lowest point since July 2008, as the state added 600 jobs last month – including 2,600 in the private sector that offset losses in government employment, the state Department of Labor reported Monday.

The state has added 27,900 jobs across all sectors since June 2014, when the unemployment rate stood at 6.5 percent.

Connecticut now has gained 13,800 jobs through the first six months of 2015. The state has recovered 97,900 positions, or 82.3 percent of the 119,000 jobs lost during the last recession.

“Above-trend private-sector job growth looks to be continuing, while the jobless rate has recently declined significantly,” said Andy Condon, director of the labor department’s Office of Research.

“This is yet another milestone reached – unemployment is down to its lowest point in seven years,” Gov Dannel P. Malloy said. “This news comes just a month after we created nearly 6,000 jobs, a huge one-month total.  We are no doubt making progress, and our strategy is no doubt moving Connecticut forward.”

The governor added that these numbers are “another marker that residents’ lives are improving, and another indicator that our economy continues to head in the right direction as a result of our efforts to create jobs.  We know that until everyone that wants a job has one, our work is not complete.”

Peter Gioia, chief economist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, noted that Connecticut’s rate is still more than 1 percentage point higher than that of Massachusetts. It also exceeds the national rate of 5.3 percent, “and shows just how stubborn our economic recovery (is) more than five years after the end of the recession,” he said.

Four of the state’s 10 major industry supersectors experienced job gains last month, while five declined, and the information supersector remained unchanged.

The construction and mining supersector enjoyed the biggest gain, adding 2,300 positions in June, while financial activities, manufacturing and professional and business services also grew.

The government supersector faced the biggest drop in June, shedding 2,000 jobs – primarily at the municipal government level. According to the labor department, the timing of local school closing can shift public employment levels sharply during the summer months.

Other supersectors that lost jobs in June include: leisure and hospitality; trade, transportation and utilities; education and health services; and other services.

Two of the state’s four major labor market areas gained jobs in June, led by Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, which added 2,100 positions. The New Haven market added 100 jobs.

The greater Hartford area was the biggest loser, shedding 1,500 positions, while the Norwich-New London-Westerly market dropped 500.

ct unemployment2ChartSC.asp

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Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari Meets With President Obama

By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — In an effort to shore up U.S. relations with Nigeria and to help fight Islamic extremists, President Barack Obama met with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday at the White House.

Buhari’s visit to the U.S. comes within several weeks of taking office after the ouster of former Nigerian President Johnathan Goodluck in a contentious and historic election, after promising to to expel Boko Haram and root out endemic corruption in the Nigerian government. It was the first time a peaceful transfer of power occurred since the end of military rule in 1999.

Buhari’s visit on Monday is “a sign of the importance the U.S. places on relations with Nigeria,” White House officials said. Besides being a “Power Africa” focus country, Nigeria has a strong Nigeria diaspora community in the United States.

Obama invited Buhari immediately after the 72-year-old former dictator was declared the winner of the March election. Buhari praised Obama for demanding that the Nigerian election be transparent and fair.

“Nigeria is obviously one of the most important countries in the world and one of the most important countries in the African continent. Recently we saw an election in which a peaceful transition to a new government took place and it was an affirmation of Nigeria’s commitment to democracy, a recognition that although Nigeria is a big country and a diverse country with many different parts the people of Nigeria understand that only through a peaceful political process can change take place,” said President Obama who was flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, National security advisor Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry and other White House officials.

U.S. relations with Nigeria soured because of government corruption and the human trafficking of more than 200 schoolgirls, who were kidnapped by “an increasingly lethal” Boko Haram in April 2014. The abduction of these girls, most of whom were Christian and from the town of Chibok, led to international condemnation and a campaign to “Bring Back Our Girls.”

Boko Haram’s human trafficking and deadly rampages have killed thousands in Nigeria since its formation in 2009. Last Friday, at least 15 people were killed in suicide bombings at open air praying grounds on one of Muslims calendar.

Last week, Buhari fired the entire top echelon of the military, which he has accused of corruption that prevents what once was Africa’s mightiest armed force from curbing the Islamist insurgency based in Nigeria’s northeast. The insurgency has killed more than 13,000 people and driven another 1.5 million from their homes, according to reports.



Dressed in a traditional West African-style caftan of a black long gown and a matching pants and prayer hat, Buhari reaffirmed his allegiance to democracy and promised to address U.S. concerns.

Buhari noted the “positive trends” of elections in Nigeria and credited the “pressure from the United States and Europe to make sure elections were free and credible led us to where we are now.”

He said he was “extremely happy” about the progress and “very grateful” for the invitation from Obama to the White House.

Nigeria boasts Africa’s largest economy and hosts the fourth largest oil reserves. However, Nigeria’s economy has suffered under the decline of oil prices, government corruption and security issues.

Additionally, Nigeria plays a critical role in the region in terms of being an economic power, but also a historical contributor to peacekeeping and playing a very important role globally,” said Grant Harris, the senior director for African affairs at the National Security Council.

“This feels to us like Nigeria is at an important moment in which there can be real reforms across the board,” said Harris, in a conference call to reporters last week. “We’re looking forward to what we can do with a president who has staked out an agenda that we think is the right agenda at the right time.”

Grant said that the U.S. has been providing important security assistance to help professionalize the Nigerian military and to help their approach to Boko Haram.

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Connecticut Joins National Trend on Sentencing Reforms

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy joined some of the nation’s most conservative governors Thursday by signing legislation intended to lower incarceration rates for non-violent crime, a reversal of the get-tough-on-crime trend that produced an explosion in prison populations.

Malloy promised that his “Second Chance Society” bill, which eliminates prison as a punishment for many drug possession crimes, was a first step in addressing fiscal and social costs of incarceration, a mission supported by fiscal conservatives and social liberals.

“I’ll have a series of next steps for the next session — already working on it,” said Malloy, whose correction commissioner recently converted a prison into a pre-release center. “I’m working with academics, folks involved in the criminal justice system, folks involved in the corrections system.”

Malloy hinted that rehabilitation would become a stronger element of the prison mission in Connecticut, saying he was impressed to learn during a prison tour of a maximum-security prison in Germany that 25 percent of the staff was dedicated to preparing inmates for release.

Governors around the nation have concluded that tougher drug sentences and a prison building boom were overreactions that have been costly to states, while leaving young drug offenders with records that compromise their ability to get scholarships, housing and jobs.

“I’m pretty tough on crime,” said Malloy, a former prosecutor in New York City. “But what I’m saying to our society here in Connecticut, we’ve got to find the right balance, because permanently punishing people is like permanently punishing ourselves.”

The Democratic governor waited until the first year of his second term to make sentencing reform a legislative priority, trailing Republican governors in red states, where sentencing reform has proven to pose fewer political dangers.

“The list isn’t that long, but there are more red states. I think it is easier,” Malloy said. “If you look at some of the reticence initially in the legislature, it was that people were afraid they would be called weak on crime, when actually this is strong on crime and has proven itself to be strong on crime.”

The Second Chance bill was passed in special session with the support of the Republican minority leaders, Sen. Len Fasano of North Haven, and Rep. Themis Klarides of Derby, whose votes greatly lessen the value of the bill as a wedge issue in 2016 legislative races.

From “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences,” The National Research Council, 2014.

“This is what happens when you have conversations and exchange ideas across party lines, when you bring to the table issues that everybody is facing and say, ‘How can we solve this to the betterment of the state of Connecticut?’ ” Fasano said during the ceremony. “We looked at it and said drug addiction is a health issue, not necessarily a criminal issue.”

The legislation signed Thursday in a ceremony in the ornate Old Judiciary Room of the State Capitol reclassifies most drug possession crimes as misdemeanors and repeals the two-year mandatory-minimum sentence for possession within 1,500 feet of a school or day care. For a second possession offense, the court could order drug treatment. Subsequent offenses could be charged as felonies.

The measure also streamlines the process for obtaining paroles and pardons.

Peter Gioia, an economist with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, was among those who crowded around Malloy during the bill ceremony. He said the interest of the state’s largest business lobbying group was threefold.

“First, it’s the right thing to do. Second, it’s something that’s important in terms of taking people and changing their lives. And third, it’s important because it’s a fiscal issue,” Gioia said. “It costs $51,000 a year to lock somebody up. It costs $15,000 a year to send them to UConn. We need to send more people to UConn and fewer people to be locked up.”

Connecticut previously decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Prison populations were relatively stable until the mid-1980s.

The U.S. now incarcerates more than 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons. The incarceration rate is the highest in the industrialized world, costing about $60 billion annually, up from $12 billion 20 years ago.

Researchers say prison populations ticked upwards in the 1960s and 1970s, then exploded after the crack epidemic of the 1980s.

Connecticut’s prison population on June 1 was 16,165, down from 18,364 on the same day in 2010. At the same time, reported crimes and arrests in the state have dropped. In the 1980s, the state’s prison population was about 6,000.

The state spends more than $700 million of its annual $20 billion budget on its prison system, which employs about 6,300.

The Second Chance initiative was one of two major criminal justice bills that stalled in the regular session, which ended June 3, only to be revived with bipartisan support in a one-day special session. The other was “An Act Concerning Excessive Use of Force.”

It encourages police departments to increase minority recruiting, provides funding for police body cameras and sets standards for the independent review of deaths resulting from use of force by police.

The Second Chance bill was supported by a conservative think tank in Connecticut, the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, and Grover Norquist, the godfather of the national tax cut movement, as well as the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus and the ACLU.

Governors and Sentencing Reforms
A sampling of the governors to recently embrace sentencing reforms
Deval Patrick Massachusetts Democrat 2010 Signed
John Kasich Ohio Republican 2011 Signed
Nathan Deal Georgia Republican 2011 Signed
Bobby Jindal Louisiana Republican 2012 Signed
Jack Markell Delaware Democrat 2014 Signed
Phil Bryant Mississippi Republican 2014 Signed
Mary Fallin Oklahoma Republican 2015 Signed
Kate Brown Oregon Democrat 2015 Signed
Rick Scott Florida Republican 2015 Signed
Rick Snyder Michigan Republican 2015 Proposed
Andrew Cuomo New York Democrat 2015 Proposed
Larry Hogan Maryland Republican 2015 Enacted without signature

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President Obama to Visit Federal Prison

By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — As a part of his overall strategy to reform the “broken criminal justice system,” President Barack Obama is expected to visit a federal prison next week.

White House officials announced the visit on Friday, saying Obama will visit El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma this coming Thursday.

There, he is expected to meet with inmates and law enforcement officials, said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

At the prison, Obama will also conduct an interview with VICE that will be a part of a documentary airing this fall on HBO focusing on America’s “broken criminal justice system,”

 El Reno is a medium security federal correctional institution.

The visit to El Reno will be a part of a two-day trip to Oklahoma.

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