From the Office of State Senator Kevin Witkos
In recent months, concerns have been growing over the state’s new early prison release law.
Before it was adopted, legislative Republicans raised serious questions about its potential effects on public safety. Unfortunately, it appears that the consequences have been all too real for victims of violent crime. Last week, members of the Judiciary Committee organized an informational hearing after several inmates were charged with new crimes after being released through the program.
During the 2011 legislative session, the Risk Reduction Earned Credit Program passed in the Senate by a vote of 21 to 14. Supporters of the program believe that it offers incentives for inmates to participate in their own rehabilitation and ultimately lessen the chance of recidivism, or a relapse into criminal behavior, after release. Opponents warned that it would allow violent felons to get weeks and months taken off their prison sentences. Believe it or not, those sentenced to prison for crimes such as rape, arson, child molestation and animal abuse can be eligible for early release under the program.
Following the murder of a Meriden convenience store owner, these concerns were once again brought to the forefront. On June 27th, Ibrahim Ghazal was shot and killed during an armed robbery at the Meriden EZ Mart store. Today, Frankie Resto faces murder charges in connection with this killing. Had he been required to serve the full 75-month sentence for two previous armed robbery convictions, Resto would have been in prison until October of this year. Instead, he was released in April after receiving 199 days of Risk Reduction Earned Credits.
Last week, Republican legislators came together to hold an informational hearing on the early release program at the Legislative Office Building. Hosted by Sen. John Kissel and Rep. John Hetherington, the two ranking members of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, the meeting was an opportunity to publicly review the early release program and seek more detailed information from the state Office of the Victim Advocate.
Also in attendance were Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, House Republican Leader Larry Cafero, one Democratic vice chair and several Republican legislators. Unfortunately, several invited guests with detailed knowledge of the program declined to attend, including Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Mike Lawlor, Department of Correction Commissioner Leo Arnone and the Democratic co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee.
During the meeting, State Victim Advocate Michelle Cruz gave a presentation about the program and some of the major concerns regarding recidivism. On July 25th, the Department of Correction announced that 7,589 inmates were released in the nine months of the program after these credits were applied to their sentences. During this time, 773 inmates returned to state custody for a recidivism rate above 10 percent. While some argue it is too soon to judge the program’s success, many are concerned over the issue of public safety.
Some of the concerns that were shared during the meeting included the retroactive application of credits to the year 2006, credit awarded for programs or behaviors that do not target the root cause of an inmate’s criminal activity and an inability of the state to adequately manage, supervise and monitor the increased caseload. This means that the prison population has effectively shifted from the Department of Correction directly onto our communities. To learn more about the Office of the Victim Advocate, please visit their website at www.ct.gov/OVA.
In the end, we simply cannot continue to risk public safety over this program. While some programs can help rehabilitate criminals, this program should be suspended and fully reviewed before it results in another unnecessary tragedy. The informational hearing was a sobering opportunity for legislators to learn more about the program and seek answers for some of the more pressing questions. It is my hope that common sense will prevail and the legislature can reevaluate the program next session.
Sen. Witkos (www.SenatorWitkos.com) represents the 8th Senate District, including the communities of Avon, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, Hartland, Harwinton, New Hartford, Norfolk, Simsbury and Torrington. He can be reached by phone at 1-800-842-1421 or by email at Kevin.Witkos@cga.ct.gov.