Mike Lawlor is, in the precise meaning of the term, a lawbreaker. And unfortunately, he cannot plead ignorance of the law.
In January 2011, Mr. Lawlor was appointed by newly installed Governor Dannel Malloy as Connecticut’s Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, a newly created position whipped up by Mr. Malloy because the energetic governor wanted to put his mark on Connecticut’s penological system. Mr. Lawlor seemed the obvious choice: he had served in the state’s House of Representatives for twelve terms, 24 years, 16 years of which were spent as the co-chair of the Judiciary Committee along with State Senator Andrew McDonald, later appointed to Connecticut’s Supreme Court by Mr. Malloy.
Mr. Lawlor was at the time of his appointment – and is now – intimately familiar with the sometimes byzantine law-making processes of the General Assembly.
Installed as Mr. Malloy’s prison guru, Mr. Lawlor immediately set about reforming what he regarded as Connecticut’s outmoded penological system. Somewhat like the goddess Athena popping fully-formed out of the brain of Zeus, Mr. Lawlor’s signal achievement as the state’s prison guru, the controversial Risk Reduction Earned Credit Program, was inserted fully-formed in what has been called derisively the state’s omnibus implementer bill. The implementer bill is a Pandora’s Box of questionable legislation, portions of which have been inserted into the end of the fiscal year legislation to avoid legislative scrutiny by clever politicians such as Mr. Lawlor.
The birth of Mr. Lawlor’s ingeniously named “Risk Reduction Earned Credit Program” was attended with many awkward difficulties. The benefits of Mr. Lawlor’s get-out-of-jail-early program, to mention just one of many wrinkles, were awarded to every prisoner in Connecticut retrospectively; that is to say, the putative curative effects of the program were not applied to many retrospective awardees. The favored prisoners simply had the good fortune to be incarcerated at the time Mr. Lawlor smuggled the program past the noses of his former comrades in the General Assembly, whose ordinary work-a-day business it was to review and oversee the program, and so all Connecticut prisoners were awarded “get out of jail early” credits without earning the credits. Nice – if the object you have in view is to artificially reduce the prison population.
The murder of a convenience store clerk in Meridan by Frankie “The Razor” Resto – so called because the notorious gang member was in the habit of using a razor to shake down drug dealers – called attention to the program’s obvious deficiencies, one of which involved the awarding of get-out-of-jail-early credits to rapists; rape is considered by most penologists to be a violent crime against women, a voting group the Democratic Party has been aggressively courting this election year. Among her other accomplishments, Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is a woman.
Some watchful members of the General Assembly, among them former State Senator Len Suzio and others in the General Assembly, began early on to ask pertinent questions. Since rape is a violent crime, and since the program was designed to exclude violent criminals from participating, why were rapists being given credits that would shorten their sentences? Mr. Lawlor adroitly dodged many of the balls thrown at him by members of the General Assembly, washed the blood from his hands, participated in the firing of Michelle Cruz, Connecticut’s most competent Victims Advocate, and emerged from these ordeals with a whole skin.
As originally passed, Mr. Lawlor’s project did not allow prisoners convicted of some serious crimes -- murder, murder with special circumstances, felony murder, arson murder, 1st degree aggravated sexual assault, or home invasion – to participate in his program. But convicts convicted on most types of rape, including aggravated sexual assault of a minor and persistent dangerous sex offenders, were admitted to the program. It was not until FIVE YEARS AFTER the launch of Mr. Lawlor’s program – mostly owing to persistent pressure brought to bear by concerned legislators – that prisoners who had committed the above offenses were finally denied admittance to Mr. Lawlor’s Risk Reduction Earned Credit Program.
A fully awakened legislature has now instructed Mr. Lawlor to provide to it data that would allow the legislature to test the effectiveness of Mr. Lawlor’s program with respect to recidivism rates. And so last June, 2015 the General Assembly unanimously passed a bi-partisan bill, PA 15-216, that, Mr. Suzio said, “requires the quarterly disclosure of violent crimes committed by criminals discharged from prison early because of the ‘Early Release' law.” This and other data required by the General Assembly in PA 15-216 is necessary to determine the effectiveness of the program that Mr. Lawlor previously had smuggled past legislative noses in an insufficiently vetted implementer bill.
The new law has impelled Mr. Lawlor to assume the usual and tiresomely pugnacious lawyerly crouch position – make me! Arrogantly – and you thought former Governor John Rowland was arrogant? – Mr. Lawlor is now, through the office of George Jepsen, the state’s attorney general, resisting a suit brought by Mr. Suzio that would compel the lawbreaker to obey the law
Because the law repeatedly broken by Mr. Lawlor was unanimously adopted by the General Assembly -- no one voted “no” on the bill – all legislators who approved the bill should formally sign on to Mr. Suzio’s suit. And Attorney General George Jepsen, once a state legislator, should be ashamed to represent the interests of lawbreakers such as Mr. Lawlor and his accomplice in lawbreaking, Mr. Malloy, who ironically was once a prosecutor before becoming Connecticut’s least popular governor.