Malloy says Norwich linen supply company a ‘great example’ of Second Chance initiative
Norwich — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy stepped off his tour of the Atlantic City Linen Supply on Thursday to ask a group of five women who were feeding pillow cases into a steam iron how they were doing.
They smiled, said they were good and went back to work.
The commercial laundry company, with six facilities that supply linens to casinos, hotels and other businesses in five states, is a "great example," Malloy said, of his administration's initiative to give second chances to those who get tangled up in the criminal justice system.
He visited the plant, which is in the Norwich Industrial Park, with state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, Norwich Mayor Deberey Hinchey and other officials to thank the company for hiring former prisoners and to tout his latest Second Chance Society proposal.
The measure to eliminate bail for most people charged with misdemeanors and raise the age to 21 for juvenile protection in the court system did not pass during the regular session of the General Assembly but may have a chance during a special session.
The linen company has, since its inception 30 years ago in Atlantic City, N.J., believed in giving people "second, third and fourth chances," and worked with prisons, churches and even judges to provide jobs for offenders, according to Chief Executive Officer Daniel Goldberg.
He said the Norwich facility, with 135 full-time workers and 40 part-timers, employs at least 10 convicted felons.
A general manager at a facility in another state is a "second chancer" who started as a part-time worker doing one of the dirtiest jobs in the company and worked his way up, Goldberg said.
"'Second Chance' has always been our motto," Goldberg said. "As long as you show up and do your work, you have a job."
After speaking with Malloy, Goldberg said he would be willing to work more closely with the Janet S. York Correctional Institution, the women's prison in Niantic that recently opened a re-integration unit to help prisoners prepare to re-enter society.
One of the women making sure sheets were washed, pressed and folded Thursday was 45-year-old Kristin Rines of Willimantic.
"I've been here three years and I'm a recovering addict and was a career criminal at one point," Rines told Malloy. "I've been clean four years."
She makes $10.75 an hour and asked Malloy to support a $15 minimum wage, but said that with her husband also working, they are managing to pay the bills.
Atlantic City Linen provides health insurance and other benefits.
Orlando Torres, 30, is another of the company's success stories.
He was convicted of selling narcotics four years ago and served 15 months in prison.
When he was released, he said, "I couldn't find a job nowhere."
"Everybody kept harping on my felony," he said. "I came here and they gave me the opportunity. They realized I didn't want to do the things I did anymore. It's not a good life in there. It's not a good life for anybody."
Torres started as a part-time worker and eventually was promoted to supervisor, making $14 an hour.
He said it feels good to support his family.
One day, he said with a smile, "I want to be the big boss, general manager."
Malloy said diverting young people from prison, with bail reform and juvenile protection for those who don't commit major crimes, would result in fewer older people in prison.
He said that 75 percent of those who are incarcerated were first imprisoned before they were 22.
Even short stints for those who can't make bail are harmful, he said.
"If you're poor, you can't make bail," he said. "In a lot of cases, you lose your housing. You lose your job. You lose the support of those you were living with. It's as if we as a society have decided to punish ourselves because somebody's poor."
The state would save $15 million in the first year if it could "get poor people out" of prison, Malloy said.
It costs $168 a day to incarcerate somebody.
The governor added that the savings already has been worked into the budget, so if the legislation doesn't pass, "Our budget is out of whack."