Any true victim’s advocate in Connecticut could not turn a blind eye to Michael Lawlor’s early release Earned Risk Reduction Credits program. The program awards get-out-of-jail early credits to inmates in Connecticut’s prisons. If prison is the stick the state may use to discourage serious crime, Mr. Lawlor’s program is the carrot that presumably will induce criminals to behave properly while in prison. Mr. Lawlor was once a prosecutor for the State's Attorney Office in New Haven and later co-chairman of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee from 1995 to 2011 before he was tapped by newly elected Governor Dannel Malloy to serve as undersecretary for criminal justice policy.
Mr. Lawlor’s early release program was rushed through the General Assembly at the tail end of a hectic session the most prominent feature of which was the marginalization of the Republican Party. Mr. Lawlor’s program was not vetted in the usual manner: There was no public hearing during the course of which the Democratic dominated legislature might have heard – from the victim’s advocate, among others – objections to certain characteristics of Mr. Lawlor’s brainchild. Those objections were bound to come out in some venue, for the program remains seriously flawed.
Leading Republicans argued at the time, and continue to argue, that the Earned Risk Reduction Credits program should not have been applied a) retro-actively to all prisoners or b) to violent criminals. In recent days, Mr. Lawlor, who has a positive gift for misunderstanding Republican opposition to his program, has insisted that Republican objectionsare little more than campaign opportunities for Republicans in the upcoming elections.
A prospective application of the program would have permitted Commissioner of Prisons Lou Arnone to identify lapses in the program over a period of time, and the legislature could have responded appropriately with program patches that might have spared the cities of Meriden and Manchester the grief that came their way when two prisoners who had earned early release credits under Mr. Lawlor’s hastily conceived, poorly executed program murdered two people in robbery attempts. In both cases, the behavior of the murderers WHILE IN PRISON should have made them ineligible for ANY early release credits.
Frankie “The Razor” Resto Gets Time Off
When Republican state Senator Len Suzio was so bold as to request a suspension of Mr. Lawlor’s program until it could properly be reviewed following a needless murder in Meriden -- four blocks from where Mr. Suzio lives – Governor Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy proceeded to explain that the murderer would have been released earlier under the old dispensation, rather as if this somehow answered the objections of Republicans that THE PROGRAM SHOULD NOT HAVE INCLUDED VIOLENT CRIMINALS. The Meriden murderer had been given demerits while in prison for dealing drugs and burning his mattress. Why was he given ANY early release credits? Why was he included in the program? Possible answer: He was a retrospective candidate and as such was automatically admitted.
Why was Frankie Resto, accused of murdering Ibrahim Ghazal in Meriden, not quickly rearrested after he had committed recommitable offences before the murder
If released under parole, a convict can be apprehended and immediately re-incarcerated without a court order. When released on probation, however, a warrant for arrest must be procured, which consumes more time before an offender can be taken off the street and re-incarcerated, a critical factor in the chain of events leading to the murder of Ibrahim Ghazal.
In January Mr. Resto was approved for release under parole by the Board of Pardons and Paroles, but Mr. Resto’s scheduled release in February was delayed because the Department of Corrections (DOC) could not finalize arrangements for a sponsor. It would have been within the power of the parole board to delay his release until he had served 100% of his sentence. Mr. Resto earlier had been denied parole under the law replaced by Mr. Lawlor’s early release program. The delay stretched out for two months, until the DOC was compelled on April 12 to release Mr. Resto for "time-served.” Mr. Resto was released for time served because the 199 days of risk reduction credits he was awarded had reduced the expiration of his term from November to mid-April. Now eligible for release under time-served, Mr. Resto did not need a sponsor -- and so he was released under probation – not parole. The re-incarceration process under probation was more lengthy and cumbersome than would have been the case under parole. Mr. Resto's apprehension and re-incarceration would have been nearly instantanious had he been released under parole. Under the regime replaced by the early release program, he may very well have been apprehended before the night of June 27, when his path crossed with Mr. Ghazal.
When the objection to Mr. Lawlor’s program is that criminals convicted of rape, arson, sex with a child under 13, poisoning the water supply as a terrorist act – all violent crimes -- should not be the subjects of an early release regime, and the answer to the objection is that a specific murderer would have served a couple of weeks more time under an unreformed regime, do we not have a dunderheaded failure to understand the objection?
Firing the Messenger
At an open public hearing boycotted by Mr. Lawlor and all but one Democratic legislator, Ms. Cruz identified other serious lapses in Mr. Lawlor’s Earned Risk Reduction Credits program. Upon incarceration, according to Mr. Arnone, “an Offender Accountability Plan” is initiated that identifies “treatment programs the offender should take advantage of to address his or her needs. These can include education, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence counseling parenting and others.” In some cases, Ms. Cruz pointed out in the hearing boycotted by Mr. Lawlor, the therapeutic nature of the programs was vitiated because the rehabilitative programs may not have been tailored to the prisoners. Mr. Lawlor pointedly refused to answer the point, choosing instead to assert that the Republican legislators with whom he had worked when he himself was a legislator were motivated by political considerations.Ms. Cruz and Republicans leaders understandably wary about Mr. Lawlor’s program also pointed out that the program disturbed long standing plea bargains made between defense attorneys, prosecutors and affected victims of crime, an important consideration since most prosecutions in Connecticut are plea bargained to avoid expensive trials. What effects will Mr. Lawlor’s early release credits have on future plea bargains? Why should crime victims agree to a sentencing “plea bargain” the terms of which will be altered under Mr. Lawlor’s program?
These are all reasonable questions that should have been vetted in a public hearing before Mr. Lawlor’s deficient program was adopted during the final minutes of hectic session dominated by Democrats in the General Assembly.
In his early days when the prospect of a career in politics was but a glint in his eye, Governor Malloy was also a prosecutor. Mr. Malloy’s lovely and capable wife ran a rape crisis center. Mr. Malloy knows that rapists and other violent offenders qualify for early release under Mr. Lawlor’s deficient program. Yet his answer to objections raised by Ms. Cruz to a program in which two murderers were granted early release credits is – UNBELIEVABLY – to advertise as open the putative “non-partisan position” now held by Ms. Cruz.
And this, we are to understand, is not a politically motivated move by Malloyalists to, in words easily adapted from King Henry II to his own loyalists, rid the governor of a meddlesome political functionary whose public criticism has grievously offended the chief architect of the seriously defective, blood ridden Earned Risk Reduction Credits program. The advisory committee now shamelessly advertising for a new state victim advocate is chaired by Mr. Lawlor, according to a story in the Register Citizen.