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Early Release Program Scrutinized

by Hugh McQuaid | Mar 22, 2013 4:23pm
(7) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Courts, Legal, Public Safety

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Michael Lawlor

The Correction Department’s early inmate release program was both praised and panned Friday as the Malloy administration touted its benefits and critics forced a hearing on legislation to eliminate it entirely.

The “Risk Reduction Credit” program was passed by the legislature 2011 and allows the department to award inmates credits that can reduce their prison sentence by a maximum of five days a month.

According to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration, credits are earned by participating in programs designed to ease their transitions back into society and reduce the likelihood they will commit another crime.

However, the program has been controversial among Republicans who argue that the credits should not be available to inmates convicted of violent offenses.

At an informational hearing Friday morning before the Judiciary Committee, Michael Lawlor, Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy, argued that violent offenders have not been released earlier under the program than they had been under previous Correction Department policies.

Lawlor said the Malloy administration supported legislation that would statutorily require that violent offenders serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before being released from prison. He said that’s been the case already.

“We have not released violent offenders before they served 85 percent of their original sentence. That’s by design and that’s the way it’s going to be in the future. I think it’s appropriate for the legislature to codify that,” he said.

Lawlor said violent offenders had been getting out earlier under various other discretionary programs before the current system was implemented.

In a room next door, opponents of the program rallied support for legislation repealing the credits. Sen. Joseph Markley, R-Southington, got the bill a spot in Friday’s public hearing by invoking a rarely-used legislative rule allowing lawmakers to petition to have bills heard during hearings.

“It’s a technique that has not been used for many years, but I suspect will return to the repertoire now,” he said.

Len Suzio, a former state senator who lost his seat in a close election last year, said Markley’s bill would be one of the most important pieces of legislation this session. Suzio spent time campaigning against the early release program last year after Ibrahim Ghazal, a 70-year-old shop owner in Suzio’s town of Meriden, was murdered.

Suzio contends that Frankie Resto, the man accused of murdering Ghazal, was out of prison earlier than he would have been otherwise because of early release credits. Suzio called Resto “the poster boy for what’s wrong with the early release program.” He said violent crime was “in [Resto’s] genes, almost.” 

“As dangerous as he was, he was let go under early release. And they knew he was dangerous,” he said.

Ghazal’s son, Fapyo, spoke at the press conference urging passage of the bill to repeal the program.

“This guy [Resto], he destroyed our life. He destroyed my mom’s life. He destroyed my life,” Fapyo Ghazal said.

Although Resto’s case has been used by opponents as an example of the early release program’s shortcomings, the Malloy administration holds him out as evidence the program is keeping violent criminals in prison longer.

Lawlor told the Judiciary Committee that Resto served at least 91 percent of his sentence before being released. Meanwhile, he said many inmates convicted of the crime for which Resto was originally incarcerated had served around 60 to 80 percent of their sentences before being released under older policies.

“By design, violent offenders are being held in longer than ever before,” he said.

Suzio said Lawlor was “playing games with the math.”

“The whole point of the new law was to make it easier to get out of prison,” he said.

Correction Commissioner Leo Arnone said the point of the program was to reduce inmate recidivism. Since the program has been rolled out, he said the average inmate has served around 95 percent of his or her sentence.

“This is not and it has not been a program that we have kicked open the back door and let everybody out,” he said.

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(7) Comments

posted by: Lawrence | March 22, 2013  8:10pm

“Suzio spent time campaigning against the early release program last year…”

Actually, Suzio spent time CAMPAIGNING FOR the early release program last year, writing a letter seeking early release for a family friend who embezzled money to buy fancy artwork.

http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/senator_is_ok_with_release_of_white_collar_criminals/


Today was just another day in a very, very long line of “Suzio two-step” public policy shuffles…

posted by: Disgruntled | March 23, 2013  8:59am

Frankie Resto should fry…but thanks to Dan Malloy he will, in time, get a chance for a repeat performance.
How would this state have dealt with Adam Lanza? Retroactive death penalty, like Dan’s tax hike?
I pity all the victims of crime in this state. They suffer and have few advocates while politicians like Dan Malloy play games with justice, reducing the issue to a budget item and a test of party loyalty.
Sickening.

posted by: jenand | March 23, 2013  12:54pm

Why don’t you parole them, and assign them them to a parole officer that can send them back to complete their sentence? Ah yes, that would require trained professionals, and, of course, we need to pay trained professionals.

posted by: Joebigjoe | March 23, 2013  10:12pm

If we cant keep the real criminals in prison then how will they find space for the hundreds of thousands of gun owners that they want to make into felons?

Also if you look at those that voted for early release it’s common those that want support people control measures around guns. I guess they still can’t connect the dots in their progressive brains that there are some very bad people out there that we need to be protected from

posted by: BrianO | March 24, 2013  9:20am

The Risk Reduction program should take place within a conversation that acknowledges that crime levels – including violent crime – are at a 45 year low. The opposition to this program comes from politicians seeking to take advantage of a traditionally emotional issue to pander to certain unions and constituents.  Public policy should not be designed based upon horrible events which cannot be argued away. 

The reality is that compared to national statistics, we have very low crime and the highest regional levels of incarceration.  Unfortunately, these simple verifiable facts are not part of the conversation.  Pure and simple, our system is too big and invasive for Connecticut.  That is good news.  Let’s fix it.  We are rapidly falling behind the national conversation regarding appropriate levels of incarceration and the scope of a criminal justice system that targets urban areas increasingly becoming isolated pockets of hopelessness and poverty.

posted by: ko4478 | March 25, 2013  6:07am

Having worked on the line in Connecticut’s prisons for several decades, I can say unequivocally that the “good time” credits (or whatever the politicly correct name is now) are an extremely valuable tool for managing inmate behavior. Moreover, properly applied they motivate offenders to seek life skills to reintegrate into society.

The real problems arise when the “good time” credits are used as a pressure release valve during tight budget years (umm like now).  These are often the times when bed space and budgets trump public safety.

If one digs into the Administrative Directives governing the program one would likely find the catch-all phrase that reads something very similar to, “The Commissioner of The Department of Correction shall have the authority to revise,amend, or override any part of the program described in this Administrative Directive”.

Clearly, this means prisons get too full, orders come down to start pushing them out. It is just a fact.

Check it out, I am reasonably certain the A.D. governing the program is on the DOC’s web site.

posted by: Joebigjoe | March 25, 2013  12:15pm

How about we teach people not to hurt other people, not to take from other people, and not to use mind altering substances that the government doesnt want you to (they leave you other legal options).

Ill bet we could really reduce prison populations if we were successful with that. Duh!

I grew up in Hartford and learned some other things about prison/jail that never get discussed. When some of our friends and acquaintances were grabbed by the police for something it was a joke because you saw them two hours later, if that. When people did things much more serious you didnt see them come right back, and that had an impact on the people left behind. It made them think.

Having someone get arrested and back out before the officer has even completed his paperwork is a joke. Open up a Sheriff Joe type facility and let these people stew for a bit in a tent.