Senator Takes Risk Reduction Credit Complaint to FOI
Sen. Joe Markley filed a complaint Wednesday with the state’s Freedom of Information Commission, claiming the Malloy administration has been stonewalling his requests for data on a Correction Department program.
Markley, a Southington Republican, began requesting information from the department on Aug. 8. He asked for details on the administration of the state’s Risk Reduction Credit program, which allows the department to award credits to inmates for participating in recidivism reduction programs. The credits can be used to reduce an inmate’s prison sentence by up to five days a month.
In a letter to the DOC’s acting commissioner, Markley requested the names of each prisoner released under the policy, the number of credits they earned, and the crime that led to their incarceration.
Two months later, Markley says he has had little in the way of response from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration. He told reporters Wednesday he believes he is getting the “runaround.”
“Basically they are stonewalling at this point, in my opinion. They’re not making any reply at all,” he said.
On the day of Markley’s original request, the DOC responded with another letter telling him to refer his requests to the Offices of Legislative Research and Fiscal Analysis. Markley said he tried, but neither office had the information he sought. So he wrote back to the Correction Department.
“I believe your department has the information, as well as the responsibility to provide it; your letterhead,” he wrote to the DOC’s Freedom of Information Unit, “suggests a unit exists for that purpose.”
Markley said he was referred to the office of Michael Lawlor, the governor’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning.
Lawlor has often served as the administration’s chief defender of the program, which has been controversial since it was passed in 2011. Markley was among opponents of the policy who objected to its inclusion of inmates convicted of violent crimes.
In a statement Wednesday, Lawlor said the information Markley has requested is regularly published by the administration.
“Information about offenders finishing sentences is regularly reported to the legislature and to the public and is public information. In fact, the Department of Correction and the Judicial Branch make virtually all of that information available online,” he said.
Lawlor said Markley’s request was referred to the Legislative Research Office because he asked for analysis and not data. Lawlor said the information Markley requested doesn’t exist because technically no inmates are released based solely on the Risk Reduction Credit program.
The department could not compile the list he sought because inmates “are not actually released ‘pursuant to RREC,’” Lawlor said.
However, Markley said Lawlor’s office has said nothing to him in response to his request. He wrote Wednesday to Colleen Murphy, executive director of the state’s Freedom of Information Council, to start a formal FOI complaint.
If the administration is monitoring the program, Markley said it should have easy access to the information he is looking for. He said he was not trying to be difficult.
“If they came back to me and said ‘We don’t keep the information in that form,’ if they said ‘We can provide you with X and not Y,’ I would be willing to figure out what would be reasonable to expect from them,” he said.
Markley called the DOC’s referral to the Legislative Research Office “flippant.” At one point in the letter, the department’s FOI administrator misspells his name as “Senator Marley.” He joked that the issue could have been solved “by one phone call to ‘Marley’” by Lawlor’s office.
Markley said he still had concerns that the program was being mismanaged or that it jeopardized public safety. He said he suspected that’s why he has not received the information he requested.
“I think the information may reflect poorly on the program and I think they may be concerned . . . that there is political damage that could come from revelations of problems,” he said.
Lawlor said high-risk and dangerous inmates now spend more time in prison than inmates had in the past.
“The goal of the post-Cheshire sentencing reforms enacted in 2008 and thereafter have had one principal goal: to identify high-risk, violent offenders and keep them in prison as long as is possible. For this reason, violent offenders in Connecticut now serve a much longer portion of their original sentence than had been the case before the Cheshire murders,” he said.
Lawlor said the administration has briefed lawmakers on the department’s release policies and is willing to do so “at any time.”