State Senator Len Suzio held a news conference in the Legislative Office Building, sparsely attended by the public but well attended by the state’s media, to call public attention to what he regards as serious failures in Connecticut’s newly adopted and Orwellian named early release Risk Reduction Earned Credits program. The title of the program begs the question -- Risk Reduction for whom?
Certainly Ibrahim Ghazal’s risk of getting murdered as he was peaceably going about his daily business at an EZ Mart store in Meriden was not reduced after the program was hastily adopted in a legislative session normally devoted to budget fixes. A Democratic dominated General Assembly joined at the hip to the first Democratic governor in more than 20 years, Dannel Malloy, has made it possible for ambitious Democrats to pass hastily contrived bills through a sausage making assembly line that in the past was considerably more thoughtful and deliberative.
Police have arrested Frankie Resto, a prisoner who had been given early release credits under the provisions of the General Assembly’s new law, for the murder of Mr. Ghazal.
In the blink of an eye this session, Democrats were able to abolish the death penalty – by arguing that the prospect of death does not deter capitol felonies. At the time of passage, Connecticut Commentary argued that if capital punishment had no deterrent value at all, no punishment, however minor, could deter crime. At times the Democrats appeared to be arguing for the abolition of punishment as well as capital punishment.
The bill abolishing the death penalty, passed by Democrats over the muted objections of an emasculated Republican minority, applied abolition prospectively. The bill was crafted so as not to affect the Connecticut 11, capitol felons presently awaiting execution on death row.
Thanks to a cowardly Democratic majority in the General Assembly, Connecticut is now prepared to execute 11 men in the absence of a law mandating execution for heinous crimes, oblivious of the natural law informing all jurisprudence, according to which men may not arbitrarily be punished in the absence of a law prescribing punishment: Nulla poena sine lege -- “Where there is no law, there is no transgression” – is, outside of the totalitarian state, a part of the Natural Law that informs Western laws and ethics. The natural law, in its varying permutations, may be found in the Torah, the Sermon on the Mount, the Magna Carta, statutory law and the U.S. Constitution. Alas, Connecticut’s General Assembly and its governor, formerly a prosecutor, are untouched by it.
Mr. Suzio’s too loud objections to the hastily written and poorly applied Risk Reduction Earned Credits program has produced a sour note from Michael Lawlor, who had served in the General Assembly for a quarter century before accepting a well paid position among Malloyalists as the governor’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning at the Office of Policy and Management. As co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Lawlor was practiced at sliding dubious legislation past his Republican comrades on the committee, not always successfully.
“The idea that you could take a tragedy of what happened in Meriden, this murder, and turn it into some sort of a political football is really outrageous,” Lawlor told a reporterfor CTNewsJunkie. “I think it’s extremely irresponsible to capitalize on a tragedy like this.” Mr. Lawlor added that if Mr. Suzio was serious about getting something done, he wouldn’t be holding a press conference, because that’s not how public policy is changed in the Malloy regime.
Mr. Suzio, as well as family victims left in grief by behavior even Mr. Lawlor might consider anti-social, do not agree with that assessment.
Mr. Lawlor argues that under the previous program, Mr. Resto would have been released earlier. Mr. Suzio argues that Mr. Resto was released early under the auspices of the new Risk Reduction Earned Credits program, and the credits that served as his get-out-of-jail-early card should never have been applied in a rigorous and fault free early release program.
“He [Mr. Resto] actually got drunk in prison at one point in time,” Suzio said at his press conference. “He set a fire in a prison, yet he still earned 199 days early release credits?”
To date, 7,589 prisoners, many convicted of violent felonies, have been released early under the provisions of the retroactively applied Risk Reduction Earned Credits program. Where will they be living, asks State Victim Advocate Michelle Cruz? The state, she points out, has only 1180 beds at half way houses and 3,500 behavioral slots available to those who receive early release. Who is supervising their release? Have they been given psychiatric evaluation before release? How are the credits applied?
“Many of the offenders are being granted RREC for simply signing up for a program rather than completing the program. For example,” Ms. Cruz said, “a sex offender who refuses to sign up for sex offender treatment as required, is instead signing up for programs such as study of the Philippines. Once they sign up they are receiving credits to get out early,”
In her research, Ms. Cruz cites inmates denied parole for failure to complete required programs while at the same time earning risk reduction credits for enrolling in programs they do not need. “For example a sex offender who refuses to sign up for sex offender treatment as required, is instead signing up for programs such as study of the Philippines. Once they sign up they are receiving credits to get out early,” said Cruz.
Ms. Cruz has asked the Department of Correction to calculate the recidivism rates of the 7,589 inmates released through the program.
The most recent study of recidivism within the Connecticut Department of Correction, completed in February of 2012 by the State Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division of the Office of Policy and Management, followed 14,398 male sentenced offenders after they were released or discharged from a prison facility in 2005, providing a five year review of recidivism. The study found that within five years of their release; 79 percent were re-arrested, 69 percent were convicted of a new crime, and 50 percent were returned to prison with a new sentence.
The study also found that; 50 percent of the offender group had served at least one sentence for violating the terms of their probation, 46 percent had served time in prison for a drug charge and 19 percent had served a prior sentence for driving under the influence or alcohol or drugs.
Reviewing the cases of 773 early release inmates returned to custody for either committing a new offense or violation of probation or parole, Ms. Cruz has discovered that many were re-arrested for: Violation of a protective order (felony); Carrying a dangerous weapon (felony); Attempt to commit arson 3rd Degree(felony); Burglary 3rd (felony); Attempt to commit arson 1st degree (felony).
Surely such data would be of interest to legislative Democrats in the General Assembly who may have prematurely approved the Risk Reduction Earned Credits program.
At one point in his news conference, Mr. Suzio hoisted in the air, none too steadily, a bulging file containing the prison discipline records of one of the graduates of the new Risk Reduction Earned Credits program.
Perhaps he should have mailed it to Mr. Lawlor.
Mr. Ghazal’s murder occurred four streets down from Mr. Suzio’s residence in Meriden, and it demonstrates, Mr. Suzio said during his inconvenient press availability, that theRisk Reduction Earned Credits program could use a bit of fine tuning, a suggestion to which the governor and Commissioner of Department of Prisons Leo Arnone so far have turned a deaf ear; now comes Mr. Lawlor sniping that Mr. Suzio is exploiting a murder purely for political purposes.
Pray, was the prospective provision in the death penalty abolition bill not inserted into that piece of legislation for political reasons? And was the abolition bill favored by Democrats and Malloyalists not created by politicians? And may it not be said of that measure that Democrats in the General Assembly, in the course of passing the bill, made rather extravagant appeals to emotional sentiments to insure passage of the legislation? In ordinary political parlance, we call this politicians being politicians.
Mr. Suzio, quite reasonably, is trying to assemble information that will allow him to improve a program hastily pushed through the legislature. So far, he has been met with prevarications, information supplied to him that is at best ambiguous if not misleading, and charges from Mr. Lawlor that he is exploiting for political purposes the pain caused by a criminal whose record WHILE INCARCERATED IN PRISON suggests that he never should have been given early release credits through the General Assembly’s hastily devised – and apparently non-adjustable – risk laden Risk Reduction Earned Credits program.
In passing the program, the General Assembly blew on a dandelion full of seeds that will take root everywhere in Connecticut, not only in Meriden. When a legislature enacts a bill, it must own the real time consequences of the bill. And the media should be asking: Whose risks are reduced by Governor Malloy’s and Mr. Lawlor’s and the Democratic dominated General Assembly’s Risk Reduction Earned Credits program?
But first, they will have to get past Mr. Lawlor’s political spam.