By Andrew Ragali Record-Journal staff
Proposed legislation would make more inmates ineligible for early release through the risk reduction earned credit program.
The program, established by lawmakers in 2011, allows inmates to earn up to five days a month off their sentence for participation and good behavior. Legislation approved in 2013 requires violent offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their prison sentence regardless of credits earned.
To date, those convicted of murder, home invasion or first-degree aggravated sexual assault are not allowed to earn credits for early release. A bill before the state Senate would add four more offenses to the ineligible list: first-degree manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault of a minor, manslaughter with a firearm and assault of a pregnant woman resulting in the termination of her pregnancy. Anyone designated a persistent dangerous felon or sexual offender would also not be eligible to earn credit.
“I think it’s very positive,” Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said of the bill. “It’s more of a compromise. The reality is the debate is over with and the law is there. Rather than citing issues about it, we can talk about how to make it better and inch our way to a system with accountability and a system that is fair.”
Republican lawmakers have been critical of the program since its inception, but past attempts to repeal it have been unsuccessful. State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, has also opposed the program as is, citing the death of Ibrahim Ghazal. In June 2012, Ghazal, a convenience store owner in Meriden, was shot to death by Frankie Resto, a violent criminal who was released after earning 199 days of early-release credits.
“These are extremely violent crimes,” she said. “It makes sense that we add them to the list.”
In supporting the legislation, Bartolomeo is taking a different position than Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration.
“It’s one of those things that for three years now, we don’t agree,” she said. “So we agreed to disagree, and that’s just fine. They know my opinion, and that’s the end of it. I don’t get any pressure for it.”
Mike Lawlor, Malloy’s criminal justice policy adviser, said steps were already taken to prevent the early release of violent offenders when legislation was approved in 2013. Part of the legislation required violent offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their prison sentence, and added murder, home invasion and first-degree aggravated sexual assault to the list of offenses that don’t qualify for the risk-reduction earned credit program.
“It’s something that was already done two years ago,” he said. “It’s been my experience that the legislature doesn’t understand how this works.”
Statistics show crime, the prison population and recidivism have all dropped since the risk-reduction earned credit program began, he said.
But for Bartolomeo, the issue goes beyond statistics.
“This came to light in our community, and since then, there have been many more situations,” she said. “This is very personal to our community.
Regarding a stipulation in the proposed bill that would require the prison warden to review an inmate’s record before release, Lawlor said, “Everybody who gets released already goes through a very elaborate process.”
It’s unclear what impact the proposed legislation would have, he said. “The main problem here is a lack of understanding about how the correctional system works on the part of legislators.”
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