Saturday, February 01, 2014

The Coming Campaign And Public Safety

In an effort to reduce the recidivism rate in Connecticut, Michael Lawlor, Governor Dannel Malloy’s crime and punishment czar, three years ago instituted a new bright idea called the Risk Reduction Earned Credits program.

Republicans in the General Assembly, easily ignored by the governor and majority Democrats, were quick to point out the program’s glaring and dangerous deficiencies. Mr. Lawlor had smuggled the program past the usual committee watchdogs in the legislature in an end-of-the-year omnibus implementer bill, a dodge that curtailed both legislative review and public comment.

Mr. Lawlor’s program, putatively therapeutic, requires inmates to jump through certain hoops – behave well in prison, take certain courses thought to be rehabilitative by some, etc. – after which they are awarded get-out-of-jail-early credits. The credits, however, were applied retroactively to inmates who had not been exposed to the curative effects of Mr. Lawlor’s program.

Two criminals who were awarded early release credits acquired weapons upon their release -- apparently in violation of the state’s gun control laws -- and murdered two people in separate incidents in the course of two robberies.

Marginalized Republicans called for a reform of the program; they had hoped to restrict the awards of credits only to non-violent convicted criminals and were particularly upset that rapists, among other violent criminals, were not excluded from Mr. Lawlor’s benefices.

A Republican state senator who requested from Mr. Lawlor data showing that his program had reduced the recidivism rate in Connecticut prisons was rebuffed, and a Connecticut Victims Advocate who, in the course of providing the usual services to family members of a co-owner of an EZMart store in Meriden, shot to death by a graduate of Mr. Lawlor’s Risk Reduction Earned Credits program, was summarily dismissed and replaced by a Victims Advocate more amenable to Mr. Lawlor and Mr. Malloy.

Since the principal rational for Mr. Lawlor’s problem ridden program was to reduce the recidivism rate, Republicans during the upcoming elections might reasonably insist that Mr. Malloy order his subordinate to review his brain-child and correct its deficiencies – this time in public during an appropriate legislative committee review.

Trustworthy and scholarly papers on recidivism rates find that shorter, determinate sentences and a more rapid judicial response to crime reduce the likelihood of a return to prison. Mr. Lawlor’s program marches in exactly the opposite direction to a much different drummer.

This election year, Connecticut Republicans – and especially those running for office in urban areas most affected by criminals resistant to Mr. Lawlor’s therapeutic penology – may profitably make public safety an issue in their campaigns. A coherent program that seeks to reduce recidivism might entail shorter, determinate sentences for non-violent crimes. Prison officials then could be given the option of lengthening rather than reducing sentences for all non-violent convicted criminals who abide by the terms of their incarceration.

Capital punishment in Connecticut should be reinstituted for those who commit terrorist acts, multiple murders and fatal assaults on law enforcement officers.

Before he was elevated by Mr. Malloy to his present position as prison czar, Mr. Lawlor and his Democratic comrade in the state Senate Andrew McDonald, recently appointed to the Connecticut’s Supreme Court after having been nominated to the post by Mr. Malloy, were for many years co-chairs of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee. As such, both spearheaded the successful attempt to eliminate the death penalty in Connecticut  – as it happened, four years after two paroled prisoners descended upon a house in Cheshire, beat the husband of the household unconscious with a baseball bat, raped his wife and daughter, and set the house on fire, murdering three people. The death penalty was abolished eight months before Adam Lanza murdered twenty six people in Sandy Hook, most of them innocent school children. Mr. Lanza committed suicide but, had he been taken alive, he could not have been executed under Connecticut law for his crime.

The same Democrats in the General Assembly who abolished the death penalty, inserted in their abolition bill a highly questionable and perhaps unconstitutional provision that retains the death penalty for the eleven prisoners already condemned to death. The exemption was little more than political window dressing that permitted those opposed to a death penalty to abolish a law while retaining the law’s punishment in the case of 11 murderers less popular with potential voters than were the death penalty abolitionists in the General Assembly. As a result of gubernatorial and legislative cowardice, the state of Connecticut is now prepared to put to death 11 men in the absence of a law authorizing a death penalty – thanks to Mr. Lawlor, Judge McDonald, Mr. Malloy and General Assembly Democrats.

Connecticut may be stuck with Judge McDonald’s questionable judgment, though Republicans this year running for governor should insist that the Supreme Court Justice recuse himself in any case touching upon HIS work in the legislature. And Republicans candidates for governor may not be out of order in insisting that, should they be elected, Mr. Lawlor’s career in penology will be abolished – like the death penalty.

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