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Republicans Say Risk Reduction Credits Are Too Risky

by Hugh McQuaid and Elizabeth Bowling | Jul 17, 2012 1:57pm
(0) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Town News, Meriden, Legal, Public Safety, State Capitol

Hugh McQuaid file photo

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero

A recent Meriden murder has Republican lawmakers again sounding the alarm over a state policy giving prison inmates the opportunity for an early parole hearing. However, the Malloy administration maintains the law did not result in an early prison release for the man accused of the crime.

House Republican Leader Lawrence Cafero pointed Tuesday to the murder of 70 year old Ibrahim Ghazal last month at a Meriden convenience store. Frankie Resto, the man accused of killing Ghazal, earned 199 days of risk reduction credits, according to the Corrections Department.

“A hard working father of six is dead and some are wondering why three months ago a violent offender was let out of prison early for ‘good behavior,’’’ Cafero said in a statement. “The family of Ibrahim Ghazal and the public deserve an explanation - we need a full accounting of how and why this accused murderer was on the streets of Meriden on June 27.’’

Under the bill, inmates can earn good time credits that could reduce their prison sentence early by a maximum of five days a month. Credits are earned by participating in programs designed to ease their transitions back into society.

“Frankie Resto was handed a ‘get out of jail early’ card by Democratic lawmakers and Gov. [Dannel] Malloy. We need to see how the Earned Credits program is being administered, what constitutes ‘good behavior’ and how it is rewarded,’’ Cafero said.

However, Michael P. Lawlor, Malloy’s top criminal justice adviser, said Resto would likely have been released earlier if not for policies the administration has implemented. Lawlor pointed to a 1993 statute which requires that violent offenders serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.

Lawlor said under the old system, Resto would likely have been released last November if there was no specific reason to keep him once he had served 85 percent of his sentence. But the administration has focused on identifying violent individuals in the criminal justice system so Resto wasn’t released until he had served 91 percent of his sentence, Lawlor said.

“There’s never been a time in Connecticut when people like Frank Resto did more than 91 percent of their sentences,” he said. “... A year or two ago he would have gotten out at the 85 percent mark.”

Even if that’s the case, Republicans still don’t feel the risk reduction credits should be available for any inmate convicted of a violent crime. As the bill was being debated they offered an amendment which would have made violent offenders ineligible.

Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, said releasing inmates early means breaking a promise to the victims of crimes who were told the offender would be locked up for a certain amount of time.

“My business is representing constituents… and victims ought to be the most important constituents of the criminal justice system,” he said.

He called the program an act to save money and a “slap in the face” to victims that only made them victims for a second time.

But the renewed criticism in light of Ghazal’s murder comes as the state has continued to see a decline in inmate recidivism, according to the Office of Adult Probation.

“The adult probation recidivism rate dropped again in the second quarter of 2012. It is now down 6 points from when we began measuring this in 2007. In fact, in May of 2012, the rate dropped to its lowest level since we started to measure this outcome—39.9 percent,” an email from the office said. “1 percentage point drop equals about 275 fewer probationers rearrested,” the email explained.

That means about 1,650 fewer adults on probation have been sent back to prison since 2007.

In the six years that programs designed to reduce recidivism have been in existence, the state has seen a steady decrease in recidivism, Lawlor said.

Inmates can earn good time credits that will cut their prison sentence by a maximum of five days a month. Credits are earned by participating in programs designed to ease their transitions back into society.

The program is specific to each inmate based on risk and needs assessment evaluations. Issues like anger management and substance abuse are considered during evaluations, Lawlor said.

“Good behavior alone is not enough to earn the credits. But bad behavior is enough to lose them,” Lawlor said.

Earning credits is specific for each inmate based on their evaluations.

Forfeiting earned credits could only take one act of poor behavior. Wardens have the authority to strip an inmate’s credit based on a scale that rates acts of poor behavior, like fighting, Lawlor said.

“It’s a very effective tool for managing inmate behavior,” he said.

Since the inmate population was made aware of this good time rewards system, the number of assaults in jail had decreased by an “unprecedented amount” in addition to the recidivism rates dropping, Lawlor said.

“It could be a pure coincidence, but I don’t think so,” Lawlor said of these “dramatic changes.”

The system makes inmates eligible to try to have the opportunity to be released early, Lawlor explained; it does not guarantee early release. Once an inmate applies, a parole board must agree on the terms for each individual inmate; it’s very targeted, he added.

Still, Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, said the “law was passed over the unanimous objections of every Republican in the state legislature.”

“The Democrat majorities chose to coddle violent criminals despite the public safety concerns expressed by every Republican legislator. Senator John McKinney and Representative Larry Cafero led the unanimous Republican opposition to the new early release law. Innocent victims will pay the price for this betrayal of public trust by the Democratic majorities,” Suzio said in a statement.

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