Monday, August 06, 2012

Lawlor Fails to Discriminate

It cannot be a good sign that Michael Lawlor, Governor Dannel Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy at the Office of Policy and Management, seems incapable of making a proper distinction between violent prisoners under his jurisdiction and non-violent prisoners.

Purely as a practical matter, the distinction was dramatically illustrated when Frankie Resto, released from prison early after having received credits under the General Assembly’s new Risk Reduction Earned Credits program, entered an EZ Mart store in Meriden and shot to death co-owner of the store Ibrahim Ghazal, who handed over the money he demanded to Mr. Resto before he was shot, according to police reports.

Other reports demonstrate that Mr. Resto should not have been a candidate for early release under a flawed program that awards credits to violent criminals. The bill establishing the program was rushed through the legislature during its final hectic days, without the benefit of public hearings and over the voluble objections of Republicans in both chambers.

The chief objection of Republicans as the bill was pushed through the sausage machine during a session that in the past had been utilized to finalize budgets was that the Risk Reduction Earned Credits program could endanger the public welfare because it provided early release to certain violent criminals in prison for having committed such felonies as: the violation of a protective order; carrying a dangerous weapon; attempted arson, a 3rd Degree felony; burglary, a 3rd Degree felony; molestation of children and rape.

Enter Mr. Resto.

A series of reports in the Meriden Record Journal, the newspaper of record in the town in which Mr. Resto murdered Mr. Ghazal, provides according to arrest records several snapshots of the newly released Mr. Resto energetically being himself.

Mr. Resto, nom de guerre “Razor,” was the intended target of a 2006 fatal stabbing, apparently of a drug deal gone wrong. Public records detailing crimes such as these are available to anyone with a computer and a mouse, not excluding those responsible for handing out early release credits under the state’s hastily passed Risk Reduction Earned Credits program. The information – can anyone believe it? --is readily available even to an undersecretary for criminal justice policy at the Office of Policy and Management such as Mr. Lawlor.

However, in recent days the governor’s office has been concerned with the messenger of bad news rather than the predictable consequences of the seriously flawed Risk Reduction Earned Credits program passed by the General Assembly approved by both Mr. Malloy and Mr. Lawlor.

That would be state Senator Len Suzio, who lives in Meriden four streets away from the scene of Mr. Resto’s mayhem.

In reported interviews with several media outlets, Mr. Lawlor has charged that Mr. Suzio has involved himself with family members of the murdered Mr. Ghazal not because the family members – and everyone else in the state -- need his assistance in repairing Gibraltar sized breeches in the new legislation but because Mr. Suzio is a political opportunist, playing fast and loose with emotions rubbed raw by a convicted criminal known for shaking down drug dealers who murdered their father and who was given get-out-of-jail early credits under Mr. Lawlor’s misconceived program.

This guy Suzio, Mr. Lawlor insisted, is a hypocrite… because…

Because Mr. Suzio, WHO FAVORS MR. LAWLOR’S RISK REDUCTION PROGRAM ONLY FOR NON-VIOLENT CRIMINALS, wrote a letter recommending early release under the program for a non-violent criminal convicted of embezzlement. In the course of his letter, Mr. Suzio pointedly made the proper distinction between violent and non-violent criminals: “With the new early release legislation, people who are incarcerated for much more severe crimes such as rape and assault will be able to get an early release for good behavior. I believe it makes more sense for the residents of Connecticut to have non-violent prisoners released early verses those with a violent record.”

Mr. Lawlor has, even now, pointedly ignored the all important distinction. This failure to discriminate between violent and non-violent applicants to the program is at the root of its failure. And Mr. Lawlor in making this point – with considerable help from the architects of the failed Risk Reduction Earned Credits program – is by no means alone.

Andrew Roraback, recently endorsed by the Hartford Courant as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in the 5th District, responded to the preventable murder in Meriden when asked about it by Al Terzi and Laurie Perez on Fox News’ The Real Story (Pertinent remarks at 5:45):

 “I objected to this program when it was passed in May of 2011 in the dark of night by a Democratic legislature without the benefit of a public hearing and over the objections of the Commissioner of Corrections who said we should only do an early release program for non-violent offenders. What the governor and the Democrats pushed through to save money at the expense of public safety was an early release program which allowed serial rapists, child molesters, repeat drunk drivers who have killed innocent people to be given good time credit retroactively for five years. And I think everyone knew it was just a matter of time before one of these people who was released before they were supposed to be released did something terrible. And my heart goes out to the family in Meriden who are suffering the consequences of the irresponsible actions taken in the legislation. And I hope that next year, the legislature will see fit to repeal this bill and make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

And even Mr. Suzio’s Democratic opponent in the upcoming 13th District race has made the same point: “It’s important that we keep our hardened criminals behind bars, and that we also at the same time recognize that non-violent criminals who do have the opportunity for rehabilitation have that through this program.”

So then, in what sense are Mr. Lawlor’s  spurious charges against Mr. Suzio not a) political or b) hypocritical?

And whose risks are reduced by allowing violent incarcerated criminals access to a program that should be utilized only by non-violent criminals?

Mr. Malloy, once a prosecutor and a courageous Irishman who fearlessly leaps into controversies in  which even angels fear to tread, has so far maintained a discreet distance concerning the pain felt by Mr. Ghazal’s family.

When Mr. Ghazal’s son Fapyo first laid eyes on Mr. Resto at an arraignment in Meriden Superior Court on July 13, he said, “He is a bad guy. He is like a monster. I cannot look into his face,” and of Suzio the hypocrite Fapyo said, “What he tries to do is very good. We will try to work together and change the law.”

When reporters questioned Fapyo at a petition signing at the site of his father’s murder a few days ago, they supposed he spoke haltingly because he was unfamiliar with the American tongue. His real trouble was that he was beaten so savagely while working at another convenience store that the beating left him scared in body and mind.

Still he managed to tell me this story: In Jordan, his father always had spoken in glowing terms of America, so that his dreams colored their own hopes and imaginings.

“We all wanted to come to America, work hard. And now look?”

In “America, America” a book and later a film by Eliza Kazan about his Uncle’s journey to America from Anatolia, the central character speaks for all immigrants when he says, “America is not even a country. It is an emotive idea.”

When Mr. Ghazal’s family was discussing funeral arrangements following his murder, some assumed the patriarch of the family wished to be buried in Jordan. Fapyo interposed and said “No. Dad told me he loved America and he wanted to be buried in America, his new home."

And that is why when a reporter asked Fapyo to step before the mics and answer a few questions, not fifty feet from where his father was fatally shot, among the last words he shared with the reporters were “God bless America."

There are only 6 crimes excluded from the unreconstructed Risk Reduction Earned Credits program, capital murder among them. Sentences for rape, arson, sex with a child under 13, poisoning the water supply as a terrorist act and others are subject to reductions. Mr. Lawlor, it would appear, is lost to any appeals of the heart. But the family whose father was murdered may have better luck appealing to Mr. Malloy’s wife Kathy, who ran a rape crisis center.
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