Monday, March 25, 2013

Lawlor’s Penology And The Corpse At The Hearing

During a public hearing on the state’s new Risk Reduction Earned Credit Program, the informational portion of which was devoted to testimony given by politicians rather than the public, there was a dead body in the room, that of Ibrahim Ghazal, murdered by Frankie “The Razor” Resto shortly after Mr. Resto, a violent criminal, had “earned” early release credits from a program that was the brain child of Mike Lawlor, tapped early in his administration by Governor Dannel Malloy to serve as Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning.

Some of the public figures, notably among them Mr. Lawlor, danced nimbly around the corpse.

Mr. Lawlor, who has been tinkering with penological reform since his days as co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, was able to put some of his ideas into practice after his installation as Connecticut’s prison commissar.

Mr. Lawlor’s career in this regard has been marked by several successes. An early opponent of capital punishment, Mr. Lawlor was doubtless pleased when Connecticut gave up the barbaric practice of putting to death such multiple murderers as Michael Ross. Mr. Ross’ specialty was raping and strangling young women.

Mr. Lawlor, sitting as co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, argued strenuously during an earlier attempt to abolish the death penalty that capital punishment, encumbered as it was by endless appeals, was rarely applied and urged then Governor Jodi Rell “to reach out to our state's prosecutors and judges before taking action. Ask these front-line professionals their off-the-record opinions on whether anyone will ever be executed in Connecticut. I believe that she will be told what many of us have been told - the Connecticut death penalty is a false promise.

Mr. Lawlor’s view carried some weight when the death penalty was finally abolished by the Democrat dominated General Assembly during the early years of the Malloy administration. Lacking the courage of its convictions, the General Assembly produced a measure that exempted those currently on death row from its humane gesture.

In 2003, Mr. Lawlor told the New York Times he favored "alternative ways of combating overcrowding, like making it harder to put people back in prison for technical violations of their parole,” which could result in re-incarceration, “and argued that transfers should be a last resort.” In response to prison overcrowding in 2004, Mr. Lawlor argued strenuously against the expansion of prisons.  So persuasive was Mr. Lawlor that the bill, co-sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats, passed unanimously in the Senate and received only token opposition in the House. “The key,” Mr. Lawlor said at the time, “is to resist doing the simple thing - dumping a bunch of money into a new prison."

Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men are often torn asunder. Following the horrific home invasion and multiple murder in Cheshire -- in the course of which two paroled inmates raped two family members and murdered three people, a mother and two young daughters, by setting a house on fire -- Mr. Lawlor never-the-less continued to stump for early release: “Some people say let's put them all in jail. OK, fine, but that means dramatically increasing taxes or shutting down a bunch of colleges."

During a special session called to enact stiffer penalties for home invasion in 2008 following the murder by arson in Cheshire, a new law was passed making home invasion a class A felony, and the parole board under whose supervision the two convicted Cheshire murderers were released was reformed: In fact, the parole board was decimated; heads rolled. Mr. Lawlor at the time opposed efforts to pass a three strikes law, which was defeated. Had a three strikes and you’re out law been in place before the Cheshire murders, Connecticut would have been spared the necessity of housing on death row two murderers, both of whom had lengthy prison records.

Mr. Lawlor’s Risk Reduction Earned Credit Program is the crown jewel of his career in penological reform. In effect, the program repeals Mr. Lawlor’s earlier momentary setbacks.

The putative therapeutic benefits of the hastily launched, poorly conceived program had little effect on Frankie “The Razor” Resto. “The Razor,” so called because he had for some years been in the business of shaking down drug dealers with a razor, was given early release credits under Mr. Lawlor’s program -- even though, according to testimony given to the Judiciary Committee by newly elected State Senator Dante Bartolomeo,  Mr. Resto fought while in prison with other inmates, dealt drugs, burnt his mattress, was in other ways an incorrigable prisoner, and unfortunately was never subject to the non-existent “Three-Strikes” law so ardently opposed by Mr. Lawlor.

The law establishing early release credits was passed October 1, 2011 and made retroactive to April 1 (no joke) 2006. Since the provisions of the bill were applied retroactively to 7,589 prisoners, many critics of the program contended that the applied credits were both UNDESERVED and unjust.

Having cashed in his credits, Mr. Resto acquired a gun, likely NOT from a gun show or an authorized dealer, and murdered Mr. Ghazal, whose son Fapyo, present at the hearing and also severely beaten in an earlier robbery at a different store, must in the future refer to his father forevermore in the past tense.

Speaking for every victim of Mr. Lawlor’s program, past, present and future, Mr. Ghazal’s son said at the hearing press conference, “This guy, he destroyed our life. He destroyed my mom’s life. He destroyed my life.” But by the time the real public spoke, Mr. Lawlor and his retinue of subalterns had left the hearing room relatively certain that Mr. Lawlor's utopian prison reforms would not be torn asunder by an obliging judiciary committee over which he once presided as co-chairmen.
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