By Neil Vigdor

With the ink still drying on a second chance society initiative endorsed by black community leaders in Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was recognized Tuesday for his work by President Barack Obama at the NAACP's national convention in Philadelphia.

Malloy was one of two governors invited by Obama to attend a major policy speech to the group on criminal justice reform, the other being fellow Democrat Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania.

Signed into law last week by Malloy with bipartisan support, the legislation reduces the penalty for personal drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor and eliminates mandatory jail time for offenders.

"Gov. Dan Malloy of Connecticut is here today," Obama said in his opening remarks.

The policy shift mirrors similar reforms in other blue and red states, which are focusing limited law enforcement resources on violent crimes as they seek to address prison overcrowding. Obama called for a similar recalibration at the federal level, saying that the current punishment meted out for non-violent crimes disproportionately affects minorities.

"There's a long history of inequity in the criminal justice system in America," Obama said. "This is not just barbershop talk. African Americans are more likely to be arrested. They are more likely to be sentenced to more time for the same crime."

Obama's invitation is the latest show of confidence by the president in Malloy, a former prosecutor and former mayor of Connecticut's third largest city, Stamford.

Last year, Obama campaigned for Malloy's re-election multiple times in the state, singling-out the governor for his efforts to raise the minimum wage, pass paid sick leave and support gun control.

"Our state should be proud -- the president is emphasizing at a national level many of the steps we've recently made here at home," Malloy said in a statement. "Criminal justice reform is too important to ignore, for individuals and their families, for our communities, and for our nation. That's why we've led by making Connecticut a second chance society -- and that's why we're so pleased President Obama is showing such extraordinary leadership at the federal level."

Obama listed Connecticut as one of several states that have made strides on crime.

"There are states from Texas to South Carolina and from California to Connecticut who have actively reduced their prison populations over the last five years and have seen their crime rates fall," Obama said.

Republicans challenged Malloy's record on crime, referencing Hartford's dubious distinction as the current murder capital of the Northeast with 16 homicides this year.

"As long as we recognize that Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford and New London consistently appear in the nation's top-100 most violent cities list, and while Dan Malloy celebrates, families in those communities are no safer," said J.R. Romano, the state GOP's newly-elected chairman.

(c)2015 The Advocate (Stamford, Conn.)