Sunday, June 22, 2014

Lawlor The Lawless

Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient -- Henry David Thoreau

Mike Lawlor – once, along with Andrew McDonald, the co-chair of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee – was tapped by Governor Dannel Malloy in 2011 as the governor’s prison czar. His official title is Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning and, like other Malloyalists, Mr. Lawlor has a serious case of reformitus. Mr. Malloy is similarly contaminated.

When Henry David Thoreau sought to improve the age old maxim “That government is best which governs least,” he hit upon this: “That government governs best which governs not at all.” Thoreau, a closet anarchist, is best known by those who have never bothered to read his overtly political writings, as a protester who spent a few hours in jail for refusing to pay his taxes. It is not generally known why Mr. Thoreau declined to pay the tax. Later, in a rarely read essay called “Slavery in Massachusetts,” Mr. Thoreau, a committed abolitionist who supported John Brown’s effort to start a slave rebellion in the South, would write that neither he nor his countrymen should pay a tax that would be used to buy a bullet to shoot a slave. Thoreau was too impatient to mince words. “Slavery in Massachusetts” is a vigorous attack on the “peculiar institution,” the church of his day and newspapers.

Serious socialism at the time Mr. Thoreau wrote had not yet made inroads into American society and, like most men of his time, Mr. Thoreau was fiercely independent, which is the essential message of Walden Pond: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” You cannot do that with government perched on your shoulder parroting its imprecations in your ear. Neither the zoning board of our day nor the environmental police would have permitted the construction of Mr. Thoreau’s rude cabin on Walden Pond. The relationship of government to the individual, Thoreau understood, was an inverse one in most important respects: The more powerful the government, the weaker the people.

Mr. Malloy and all the Malloyalists – but most especially Mr. Lawlor – are the living antitheses of the American ethos so brashly announced by Mr. Thoreau.

There is no other word for it: Mr. Lawlor simply betrayed his former colleagues in the General Assembly when he tucked his stow-away prison reform plan the “Risk Reduction Earned Credits” program, in an end of the legislative year omnibus implementer bill, so that his signature legislation would bypass public and legislative scrutiny.

The very title of Mr. Lawlor's program was Orwellian Newspeak. Others have pointed out that early release credits disbursed retroactively to violent prisoners cannot have been “earned” by convicted criminals who had not experienced the pedagogical aspects of Mr. Lawlor’s program. And violent prisoners released early under the auspices of Mr. Lawlor’s program were a risk to the communities into which they were released.

Following Frankie “The Razor” Resto’s rampage in Meriden, Mr. Lawlor’s “get out of jail early” credits were closely scrutinized and found wanting chiefly for four reasons: 1) the program was applied retroactively to prisoners who could not have benefited from the putative therapeutic courses offered under its auspices; 2 the credits continue to be offered to violent criminals — rapists, for instance; and 3) by adjusting prison sentences for violent criminals, the program distorted both sentences handed down by judges and arrangements made to satisfy victims of violence who may be put in jeopardy by early releases, 4) the program is administered by a single person who reports to the governor rather than a committee of penological experts.

Opposition to Mr. Lawlor’s ill-conceived program came from three quarters: Mr. Lawlor’s former Republican colleagues in the General Assembly; then Senator Len Suzio, in whose back yard Mr. Resto committed his bloody crime; then Victim’s Advocate Michelle Cruz, replaced by Garvin Ambrose, who recently left his position; and reporters, few of whom wrote for major media outlets, who thought that murders – there were more than one – committed by convicted criminals who had benefitted from Mr. Lawlor’s “Get Out Of Jail Early” scheme might possibly make a good story.

Most recently, Mr. Suzio has pointed out that the statute creating the putatively independent Office Of Victims Advocate “prohibits Lawlor from serving on the Committee," a convenient post that permitted Mr. Lawlor to force Ms. Cruz from her position. Statutory regulations apparently apply to everyone but Mr. Malloy’s subalterns.

In the absence of reforms that could be made to salvage a program some of the features of which are worth preserving, the ruinous consequences to pubic peace and security that inevitably flow from Mr. Lawlor’s dangerous program remain a good, if insufficiently covered, story. In the one party state of Mr. Malloy, where opposition is easily snuffed and every string attached to every major goof-up is pulled by Malloyalists, the proper coverage of good stories may come with a price too dear to bear.
Note: The links in this summary blog are all separate stories, some of which were columns.
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