Wednesday, September 18, 2013

McKinney’s Finest Hour


Finest hours in the lives of politicians are so rare that they ought to be celebrated as often as possible,  pretty much in the way John Adams said the country should celebrate its founding:

"The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.’’

More often than not, the scribes sleep and snooze through legislative hearings on technically complex issues.


As reported by Shakespeare in Henry V, the kings speech to his troops before the battle of Agincourt is enlivening, to say the least, but one must wonder what would have been left of it had the speech been forced into the procrustean bed of a news report. Indeed, many news reports are little more than retellings of events supplied in a press release by the communication director for Senator Billingsgate. More often than not, the eloquence that arises from a legislator’s informed reaction to a piece of destructive nonsense, smothered as usual with honeyed idiocy, ends up in some morgue where pretty speeches have gone to die.

Not this time.

A little background first: State Senator John McKinney had listened patiently to proponents of a bill that established an early release program for Connecticut prisoners, Mike Lawlor’s “Risk Reduction Credit” program passed by the legislature 2011. Mr. Lawlor, once a co-chairman of the Judiciary committee, had been plucked from legislative obscurity by Governor Dannel Malloy and put in charge of Connecticut’s prisons. Mr. Lawlor took care to tuck his bill into implementer omnibus bill, no doubt hoping it would escape the notice of keen eyed legislators. He was correct. But the bill was seriously defective, Republicans later said, and the hearing that set Mr. McKinney aflame was convened to correct the defects in the bill – or, at the very least, to permit concerned legislators top point to the defects and propose patches. There were four serious defects in the bill: 1) the early release credits were assigned retrospectively to all prisoners subject to parole hearings, which meant that a great number of prisoners were assigned early release credits even though they had not been beneficiaries of the remedial programs; 2) under Mr. Lawor’s unamended program, credits were awarded to violent criminals; 3) the program was administered by a single person who reported to the governor rather than a committee of penological experts; 4) the program, because it included violent felons, would distort sentences handed down by judges whose sentencing discretion already had been seriously compromised by minimum-mandatory legislative requirements.

Mr. McKinney’s commentary on the Lawlor program followed brief comments by then Senator Edith Prague, who praised the bill.

THE CHAIR:
Madam President, I -- I sat here somewhat frustrated and almost agitated at some of the characteristics about the amendment and the bill before us. My good friend, Senator Prague -- and -- and I would love for her to sit in the Circle and listen -- said that this involved nonviolent offenders. Let me read for you, Senator, the offenses and the criminals who are given early release, even under this amendment.

Manslaughter in the first degree causes death with intent to cause physical injury or with intent to cause death of another person. Someone who commits manslaughter in the first degree is entitled to early release.

Let me read you another one: Assault of a pregnant woman, resulting in termination of her pregnancy. Someone who does that is entitled to early release.   This is not Republican spin. This is a fact, Senator.


Let me read you another one: Sexual assault in the first degree compels another to have sex by use of force; that's rape. A rapist is entitled to early release. That's what this amendment does. That's what the underlying bill does. The language cited by Senator Looney does not change that fact. Rape has a two-year mandatory minimum. If you are a rapist sentenced to jail for ten years, you are entitled to early release. The only thing Senator Looney cited to you is that you're not entitled to get below two years. But a rapist is entitled to early release under this bill; that's a fact. That is not a nonviolent crime.

So, you know, let's be honest about why this amendment is on the floor. This bill came to us from the House of Representatives, and members of the House asked the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who I like and whom I respect, Can a murderer get early release? And he said no. But the language of the bill before us says yes. Can someone who's committed a capital felony get early release? He said no. But the language of the underlying bill says yes.

The good Representative has acknowledged that it was mistaken. So we have an amendment here to correct that. So here are the crimes which are being exempted from early release: Murder, capital felony, felony murder, arson murder, aggravated sexual assault in the first degree -- that's rape with a weapon -- and home invasion. That's it; one, two, three, four, five, six. Those six crimes are exempted from early release. Every other crime on the books, Senator, every other crime is subject to early release.

The comments that were made by other Senators in this Circle to lead you to believe that violent felons could not get subject to early release are wrong and misleading.

Let me also posit another example, which I think even undermines the very argument that you can't go below a mandatory minimum, because the issue on that is with respect to the risk-reduction credits. There's also another piece that the Governor has given us in Section 20 that allows for probation officers to evaluate someone who is sentenced to two years or less. And what we've said is someone who is sentenced to two years or less, the probation officer can make recommendations that they serve only ninety days. There’s no exception in this language for a probation officer for a mandatory minimum of two years; so, yes, under Section 20, if you have a crime with a mandatory minimum of two years, say rape, you can get out if your probation makes the recommendation and someone agrees, after ninety days.

That is exactly what this language says. And guess who gets to make all of these decisions? Not us. We're allowing it to happen.

In 2010, a 40-year-old man was sentenced to two years for sexually molesting a young girl over a five-year period, from age 6 to age 11. That gentleman is subject to get out after ninety days if this bill passes.

You want to know why we're upset? Because I don't care if every other state in the country does it; I don't give a darn whether New England does it. We should not allow violent criminals to get out of jail early, period.

The policy before us says, Oh, we want prisoners to be good. And Senator Looney said this doesn't just require them to be good, it requires them to be good and enter into programs. Really? We have to provide an incentive for someone who has committed rape to be good?

Here's what we should do. Right now, they're only required to serve 85 percent of their sentence. We should say. If you're not good, you're going to serve a hundred percent, not let them out early.

Of course they should be good. That's like my kids coming up to me and saying, Hey, Dad, we did what we're supposed to do, now do we get something special? No. You're supposed to do that. Well, if you're in prison, you're supposed to be good and follow the guidelines and do what you're supposed to do; you're in prison. And you're in prison for committing a violent crime against a person, a family, and society.

I represent a town that has a prison in it. There are violent people there. The people in Newtown don't rest as easy as other townspeople, with that prison there. I can tell you, they're going to a lot less easy knowing that these people are going to get out early. Senator, do not listen to some of the things that have been said about this bill; they are not true.

We provide programs to criminals because we know they are going to get out of jail. And when they get out of jail, we want them to be productive members of society. We collectively, regardless of what you think the right penalty should be, all, I think, believe that everyone except for the most heinous, the murders, et cetera, deserve a second chance. And when they get out of jail, we want that second chance to happen. And, God forbid; we don't want them to commit another crime.

So we as a society have made a decision to use taxpayer dollars to provide programs. We have to provide an incentive for a prisoner to avail themselves of these programs, when all the programs are going to do is help them? We have to say, Oh, Dear Mr. Rapist, please, we're going to let you out early if you just take these programs? They should take the darn programs, and if they don't, shame on them. And if they commit another crime, go back to jail again. That's what our policy should be.

We're coddling prisoners, violent criminals and saying, Oh, please be good in prison. Oh, please take these programs, and we'll let you out early. No; that's terrible policy. It is a terrible policy, and I don't care if we're the only state in New England to do what we do, but we should keep doing it.

They let hundreds and hundreds of prisoners out in California because of an overcrowding situation, and crime went up. Duh; of course.

Assault in the first degree is a violent crime. Someone who commits assault in the first decree is entitled to early release. Fact.

Assaults of an elderly, blind, disabled, pregnant or mentally retarded person in the second degree, Section 53a-60b, is entitled to early release.

Strangulation in the second degree; 53a-64bb, is entitled to early release.

Threatening in the first degree; 53a-61aa, is entitled to early release.

Promoting prostitution. We've had people in this Circle who worked very hard to prevent human trafficking. But guess what, Senator? The people who engage in human trafficking, who are in our jails, get early release. Yes, they do.

Kidnapping in the first degree, you're eligible for early release.

Arson, you're eligible for early release.

Have I mentioned a nonviolent crime yet? Should I read all of the rest of the violent, terrible crimes that we are saying people who are only required to serve 85 percent of their sentence can now get early release off that 85 percent?

And here's the kicker. Guess what, Mr. Rapist, we're going to give you time back, retroactively to April 1, 2006. What a nice state we are. We're going to give a rapist Good Time, retroactive to 2006.

Now, you know what? I know you're mad at me for saying that. I know you're saying, Why is he doing that? Why is he shoving it in our face? Because it's true. Somebody in this Circle get up and tell me that a rapist is not entitled to early release, and I will sit down and be quiet, because it's in the bill.

So I'm going to say it now. I'm going to say it tomorrow. I'm going to say it every day I'm lucky enough to be a State Senator, this State Senator does not believe that someone who commits the crime of rape should ever, ever, period, exclamation point, be entitled to early release. No Good Time. Quite frankly, the fact that they're going to get out of prison one day, I'm a little nervous about.

What is the public policy? Please, somebody, when I'm done, get up and explain to me the public policy, the public safety policy behind letting these violent criminals, people who've committed manslaughter, kidnapping, rape, arson, what is the policy behind letting them out early for being good boys and girls in prison?

We're trying to save a buck? That is a terrible policy, and I'm fired up because I've heard representations about what this bill does, that aren't true. If you agree with the policy -- I think Senator Meyer agrees with the policy -- good; stand up and say why. I have no objection with that. I have no objection with that. I disagree with it, but that's what this great Senate is about, that we get to debate these differences.

But to suggest, to suggest that in Section 22, Subsection D, lines 37 to 39, that you can't have your mandatory minimum go below that somehow means that people who commit crimes that have mandatory minimums aren't subject to early time is false. This language means that under no circumstances can your sentence be less than what the mandatory minimum is. It does not mean you are not eligible for early release.

So I'll go back to my example. Rape is a two-year, mandatory minimum; there are higher mandatory minimums if the person is under 16 and under 13. It's a two-year mandatory minimum. If you're sentenced to six years in jail, you as a rapist can get early release time and get out early; you just can't get out before two years. That's all this section does.

Now, I say that with an asterisk, because we have Section 20, which allows for a probation officer to make a recommendation that anyone's been sentenced for two years or less, to get out after ninety days. And I can, Senator, give you a list, because it's a long one, of all of the crimes we found that have been committed in the State of Connecticut and people have been convicted for two years or less.

A 60-year-old, Manchester man repeatedly raped two young girls, one of whom he raped from the time she was 4 until she was 13. The prosecutor said it was the worse sexual assault case he had handled in his fifteen-year career. He plead guilty to two counts of first-degree sexual assault and was sentenced to seventeen years in jail. Under this bill, he gets out almost three years earlier.

Why? Why, for what? Why do we want to get this gentleman out of jail three years earlier? He's lucky he only got seventeen. Think about it. My God; I have a 10-year-old daughter, and if he ever did that to -- him -- one of my daughters, I would kill him, if you didn't get to him first, Senator.

A 40-year-old, Norwalk man, in 2010, was convicted of sexually assaulting a minor repeatedly, when she was between the ages of 6 and 12.

And you know what? I said it before; I'll say it again. I know I'm making you feel uncomfortable, but I don't feel sorry about it. I hope you do. I pray you do.

This is the policy that the Governor has given us and the House has passed. Do I think he wants to be nice to these people? No. Do I think the effects of the policy is that he is? Yes; it is undeniable.

A 40-year-old, Norwalk man convicted of sexually assaulting a minor repeatedly, when she was between the ages of 6 and 12, was sentenced to two years for risk of injury to a minor.

Now, my first reaction to that is who is the judge only giving this guy two years? But the -- but the -- the likelihood is, without having talked to the prosecutor, is that a decision was made that the trauma of putting this young girl through a trial was such that getting a plea deal and putting this man behind bars for some time outweighed the damage that would be done to that young girl of going through a trial. That's probably what happened or maybe there was some evidentiary issues.

But a 40-year-old man repeatedly sexually assaulting a young girl between the ages of 6 and 12, he got two years, Senator. And under Section 20, a probation officer could say after ninety days, I make a recommendation that he be released.

I have no problem voting against this bill. My conscience is as clean as it possibly could be. I've never stood in this Circle and said, You're soft on crime; we're tough on crime, like a debate that's been posited around our country so long. But I will stand in this Circle and state the facts before us and my opinion on what is the right policy. And the facts before us are undeniable that individuals who commit heinous, violent crimes will be entitled to early release.

Good credit, risk-reduction credits, you can call them anything you want; it means they get to get out earlier, five days for every thirty. And the kicker, the insult to those families and those victims is that the person who has been in jail since 2006 gets almost three hundred days off their sentence, retroactively.

I love this debate because this is -- this is what we're elected to do. Do -- do we have -- do we have more important responsibilities than the protection of the people of our state, through public safety? We do a lot of extraordinarily important things here, but are there any that more important than public safety? I don't think so.

The bill before us, the amendment before us, the direction we're given makes our state less safe. It makes our streets in our neighborhoods more dangerous. It just does. I don't think anybody can get up and say it doesn't.

Steven Hayes was released from prison, I think five times. Mistakes are going to be made. Bad, really bad people are going to be let out of jail early. And nobody wants it but we know that one of those really bad people is going to do something really bad again. And that's going to be, that really is going to be on our conscience. It really is going to be on our conscience if somebody gets out because their probation officer thinks they should get out after ninety days.

And, again, I would -- I would urge -- I don't think, Madam President, I don't think there's a point to engage in a colloquy with Senator Coleman about the intent here but -- because I think -- I think the intent is pretty clear by the -- by the breadth of the language in this amendment and in the underlying bill. But there are -- there are two very distinct policies we're talking about here, and I think it's important to mention them. One is the risk-reduction credits. Those are the credits for early release for people who have committed felonies, very violent and nonviolent, where they can get five days per month off of their sentence, and it's retroactive to 2006.

There is a second policy here. And that policy deals with anyone who has been sentenced to less than two years, two years or less. For those people -- and they are not nonviolent offenses; they include violent offenses like sexual assault, rape in the first degree -- for those people sentenced to two years or less, they are eligible -- not that they're going to get it all the time -- but they are eligible for release upon the recommendation of the probation officer after ninety days. Those are two separate sections of the statute.

And as I read the section with respect to two years and ninety days, if you've been sentenced to eight years, suspended after two, you're eligible. So you can be convicted of sexual assault in the first degree, rape, which has a two-year, mandatory minimum. You can be given a sentence of, say, six years, suspended after two, and the probation officer can be snowed by you and make a recommendation that you be released after ninety days. If you think that's the right public policy for the State of Connecticut, vote yes. My vote will be red.

Madam President, I understand we're on the amendment. I understand that this amendment was an attempt to fix some really egregious errors that came from either the Governor's Office or downstairs -- I don't know who.

I also want to thank Senator Prague, because we had a discussion last night about the section regarding release of people who have been convicted for drunk driving. Senator Prague has long been -- before I entered the Senate -- a leading advocate against drunk driving. And as I talked to her last night, she acknowledged and agreed that that section was embarrassingly weak, embarrassingly weak.

The underlying bill, given to us from the Governor's Office and passed by the House, said that if you've been convicted of drunk driving, you can just get out of jail and go home; no monitoring; no requirement for an ignition interlock system; none of that. It was all stuff that could happen but things that I think Senator Prague and I and many others agree should happen.

And so with respect to the interlocking ignition, now that is now mandatory, and I want to thank her for getting it in the bill. But, however, you're still confined to your home without any monitoring, whatsoever, under this bill. And there's still a lot of areas that need improvement with respect to that DUI section. This is better but it still doesn't go far enough.

So we're going to debate this amendment, and then I think on our side we will offer amendments to find out more about what types of criminals should be awarded good credit, risk-reduction credits or early release. I don't really care what you want to define it as; it’s called getting out of jail earlier than you're supposed to.

But, remember, this amendment you're voting for and the underlying bill will allow someone who has committed manslaughter, which is causing the death of another, to get early release. It will allow someone who has committed assault in the first degree, which is causing serious physical injury to another with the intent to cause serious physical injury, to get out on early release. This will cause someone who commits an assault on an elderly, blind, disabled, pregnant or mentally retarded person, to get early release. Such an inhumane and disgusting act by somebody to assault someone with mental disabilities or a pregnant woman, but they're going to get early release.

Threatening, assault, strangulation, arson -- and I know I've said it a lot today, but you're going to hear me say it a lot more -- sexual assault in the first degree, kidnapping. Sexual assault in the first degree, compelling another to have sex by force; having sex with someone under the age of 13; it's rape, and under this amendment and under the underlying bill, you allow that rapist to get early release.

That is an abominable policy. That's as bad a policy as I've ever seen in the State of Connecticut, and I cannot and will not ever support that. And I will talk about this today and tomorrow and every day I'm around here, because this stuff has got to stop, and it's got to change.

I would dare say that maybe if some of us had been invited into the room when these bills were being drafted, we might not have had the policy written the way it is, but that's water under the bridge.

I would -- I would urge my colleagues, we don't have to do everything the Administration wants. We don't; we actually are an equal branch of government.

And if you don't like this policy, why don't we PT the bill, sit down over the weekend.

I'm not saying every single one of these crimes has to come off the list, but the most violent ones should. And why don't we work on that as Democrats and Republicans? I know -- I know there's a bipartisan group here that disagrees with this policy. I just can't figure out why we won't change it.

Thank you.

Such eruptions of common sense should be savored – they are so infrequent – and shown to posterity as evidence that truth is occasionally represented in the deliberations of the General Assembly, even when it is loftily disregarded by majority Democrats, as was the case here.

Soon after McKinney’s remarks were made to the Democratic majority in the General Assembly, Frankie Resto was let loose early on Meriden, Connecticut. A full report on Mr. Resto’s mayhem may be found here in Connecticut Commentary.   


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