September 2, 2014

Theater at Memorial Boulevard School offers opportunity

Don't miss this report on the theater at Memorial Boulevard School.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 30, 2014

Details about a controversy over the early release program for some prisoners

Here are more details about this story today about the state's early release program for prisoners in today's paper.

Here is Republican candidate Cara Pavalock's press release on the issue:

Pavalock Call For Repeal of The Early Release Program

(Bristol) Cara Pavalock, the Republican nominee for the Connecticut General Assembly’s 77th district, called for a repeal of a 2011 law that allows violent criminals to earn early release from prison with good behavior.

Recently the controversial program was thrust back in to the spotlight when the Department of Corrections confirmed Arthur Hapgood, the man that allegedly stabbed and killed a baby in Bristol earlier this month, was able to use risk reduction credits to get out of prison early.

“This ill-conceived law must be repealed immediately,” Pavalock said. “Public safety is one of the core functions of government- if we are failing to protect our citizens, especially the most vulnerable among us, then we are failing as a government. This is a sickening tragedy and I hate to think it could have been prevented.”

Pavalock’s opponent, State Representative Christopher Wright, voted in favor of the bill in 2011 that granted early release credits to convicted violent felons. The bill had no Republican support.

Arthur Hapgood was convicted of 12 crimes including 9 felonies. While in prison he was arrested for assaulting a police officer.

Pavalock said, if elected, she would submit legislation to ensure the program could not be utilized by violent criminals.  

“Any program that allows a man like Arthur Hapgood to earn ‘credits’ in prison for minding his manners and attending some classes is horrible policy and is clearly not working,” Pavalock added.

Here is state Rep. Chris Wright's response:

The killing of Zaniyah Calloway by Arthur Hapgood was a horrible tragedy for everyone involved.  My heart goes out to the family.  But we must recognize and address the true cause of this tragedy, which is Mr. Hapgood's continued drug use. 
 
The truth is that the Risk Reduction Earned Credit program makes Connecticut one of the most restrictive states in the nation when granting credit to inmates.  The act, which was modeled after programs in Texas, Kansas and Ohio, offers inmates in the program up to a maximum of 5 days of credit per month, where most states offer up to 10 days.  In addition, inmates who are violent while in  prison or don't follow the rules face having their credits revoked.  Inmates are also encouraged to participate in  GED programs which make them less likely to commit new crimes when released.  Inmates with significant disciplinary issues, those on restrictive status (like gang members) or who refuse to give DNA samples are not eligible for the program at all.  Neither are those who are in prison for murder, capital felony, felony murder, arson murder, aggravated sexual assault or home invasion.
 
The fact of the matter is that both the crime rate in Connecticut and the recidivism rate among offenders on probation have dropped since the program was put into effect. 

Here's the statement put out by the state Department of Correction:

Thank you for your inquiry.  In any scenario, Mr. Hapgood, who was serving a 71 month sentence for robbery, would have been out on the street well before this crime occurred.   Recently enacted law ensures that he and all violent offenders serve at least 85% of his sentence.  Mr. Hapgood served nearly 90% of his sentence, and even had he served 100% he would have been released by now. Under the law that was in place five years ago, he almost certainly would have been released much earlier, possibly serving as little as 60% of his sentence. That is no longer possible. 

The facts back up these points.  Fewer violent offenders are getting out of prison today than at any point in the last 10 years.  (Please see below.) 

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BACKGROUND

Connecticut, like most states, imposes restrictions on eligibility for release depending on the type of crime and other factors.  Although a 1994 law appeared to require violent offenders to serve 85% of any prison sentence imposed by a court, a wide variety of release mechanisms allowed for these offenders to be released prior to 85%. 

For example, an analysis of  releases from 2008, the year following the Cheshire Tragedy, shows most violent offenders convicted of Robbery 1st Degree, a Class B Violent Felony, were released well before the 85% mark.  Some offenders served as little as 59% of their original sentence.  This was also the case with Assault 1st Degree, another Class B violent felony.  One such offender was released in 2008 after having served only 51% of the original sentence imposed by the court.

Reforms adopted by the General Assembly in 2008 have had a significant impact on the effort to prioritize secure beds for the most dangerous, high-risk offenders.  Public Act 08-01 mandated the adoption of state-of-the-art risk assessment tools to be used by the Department of Correction and the Board of Parole as they make release decisions for prisoners.  Although the DOC and the Board did not begin to implement these changes until 2011, they are now routinely used to identify high-risk offenders regardless of their crime of conviction.  Since 2011, violent and high-risk offenders have done a far greater percentage of their original sentences than ever before, and no violent offenders are released from DOC custody before having served at least 85% of the original sentence imposed by the Court.

In general, release decisions are much more risk-focused than before.  Prior to 2011, release decisions were typically made by wardens based on limited information or by the parole board based on incomplete files using outdated risk assessment.  Since then the process has been very selective and the number of inmates leaving prison has steadily declined, and has done so at a rate far in excess of the declining inmate population.  Total DOC population has dropped by approximately 1,250 since January 1, 2011, or about 5%.  Over that same period, the total number of releases from prison has declined by almost 18%.  During the same period of time reported crime declined by almost 10%.

The most dramatic evidence of the drop in number of prison release is that the number of inmates released on discretionary parole has dropped by more than 40% compared to 2009.  The number of “end of sentence” releases has dropped by 17%; the number of “transitional supervision” releases (these are prisoners sentenced to less than two years to serve and therefore not parole eligible) has dropped almost 34% since 2009. 

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 26, 2014

Bring on your wrecking ball


I'm working on a new online map that aims to show all the property the city has razed during the past couple of decades. It's not complete yet, and there's more data to add, but I thought I'd share it now so that anyone who sees a mistake or a missing demolition can let me know. I'm sure there are many that I'm forgetting.
Anyway, here's the link.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 21, 2014

Like it or not, Bristol should seize busway opportunity


When the argument about whether to build the busway between New Britain and Hartford raged, Bristol's officials mostly lined up firmly against it. They argued that the $575 million busway would do nothing for Bristol.
When Gov. Dannel Malloy opted to plunge forward with the new bus-only road, Bristol carped from the sidelines and placed its hope in a $1 million commuter rail study that appears to be stalled on some abandoned tracks somewhere.
Meanwhile the busway is drawing ever closer to completion. By next year, it will be operating.
Whether that's a good thing or a bad one doesn't really matter now. What does matter is that Bristol find some way to take advantage of its existence.
Aside from a few folks with extremely rosy glasses, there's a wide consensus that the new line is going to have a hard time drawing the number of passengers projected. True or not, the state is going to be trying to up the use, because it makes sense, given the buses running up and down the 9.1-mile route all day and much of the night.
That's an opportunity for Bristol.
Though officials never talk about it in public, they should be eyeing ways to help commuters reach the busway and use it. It's foolish to ignore it, particularly since the state might be willing to help upgrade the availability and quality of the buses serving Bristol commuters.
It's not hard to imagine a new "station" of some sort, perhaps at the mall site, which isn't getting used for anything else. It's got plenty of parking and a little bus shelter with some style might actually improve the place a bit. It would certainly bring more folks downtown.
No doubt there are lots of other ideas out there. The city should be talking about them, at every relevant board meeting and to anyone who might be able to help. The public will be skeptical, of course, but even busway foes aren't stupid. Let's see how this costly new transit system can boost Bristol. 

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 20, 2014

Brown says he won't cave to condescending mayor

Mayor Ken Cockayne and city Councilor Calvin Brown clashed at this week's Police Board meeting. See the story here.
Here's an open letter from Brown with his take on what it all means:

The Mayor recently attacked me at a public meeting for being someone who “does not pay property taxes.” His condescension has been directed at me and other colleagues many times. As we all know, after all, the Mayor’s favorite catch phrase is “Because I’m the Mayor and I said so!” With an ego that big – let’s face it – a little condescension every now and again is to be expected.
But since his comments were particularly personal in nature and irrelevant to the discussion at hand at the time he made them, I feel compelled to make a public disclosure:
Yes – I still live at home with my mother. No – I do not own my own home. While the Mayor seems to think this makes me less of a person, I think it makes me a prime example of the generation that will soon be taking the reins in society: in business, in government, in academia. Plus, the Mayor drastically underestimates the burden of my own personal circumstances. Like so many people of my generation, I come from a household with divorced parents. Since my parents’ divorce in 2009 (at the height of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, mind you), I have had to work to earn money to help make ends meet around the house. My mother and I shared the financial burden that comes along with trying to put food on the table, keep the lights on and the water flowing in the house, and planning for the future at a time when things seemed despairingly uncertain. On top of all this, we had to figure out what on earth we were going to do when it came time for me to go to college.
                Luckily for me, I was able to manage notable scholastic achievement, and when I graduated high school in 2011 I got accepted into the Honors program at Central Connecticut State University. In the program, any student that can complete the increased rigor of the coursework and still maintain an overall GPA of 3.5 or higher is privy to a full academic scholarship. I’m truly privileged to say I was able to do that, and I will graduate from college this upcoming December without any student loan-debt.
This privilege has enabled me to continue to work, and use all of the money I earn to support my family when it’s needed. Working with my mother and now my brother, we are able to all pool our resources together so that we can keep food on the table, and we can repair our cars, and we can keep the lights on in our home. No, Mayor, I don’t own a home or pay my own property taxes. But the only reason me and my family have been able to stay in our home is because we work with one another to make ends meet.
The Mayor seems to think I should be ashamed of that; that my voice and experience doesn’t matter. But I say to the Mayor and to everyone else – young or old – that’s ever found themselves in a situation like mine: I’m proud of what I’ve been able to do to help my family, and I do know what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet. My voice does matter. Our voice matters.
Yes, the Mayor thinks that people who don’t pay property taxes don’t matter. But I think to disregard the voices of thousands of young up-and-comers in our city simply because they do not yet pay property taxes is penny-wise and pound-foolish (… then again, that does seem to be the Mayor’s idea of ‘fiscal conservatism’). Young people should be encouraged to exercise their voice in government. They should be encouraged to be involved! And they do matter, whether they own homes yet or not.
I just want to say to the Mayor: you can be as disgusted as you want with what I have to say about the city’s public policy and the expenditure of taxpayer resources. You can insinuate all you want that my voice doesn’t matter because to you it appears as though I don’t yet pay property taxes. But Mayor, I don’t work for you. I work with you. And I will use my voice for my constituents whether it annoys you or not.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

BDDC watching from the sidelines while city takes the lead on mall site


That's downtown consultant Michael Goman speaking to the City Council on Monday evening about Renaissance's plans for the former mall site. He got nearly an hour to lay out his recommendations and field a few mild questions from council members.
In the front row, watching, were members of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp., which has oversight over the mall site's revitalization. They were told they couldn't even ask questions.
It's not quite clear what's going on between the BDDC, Mayor Ken Cockayne and the council, but it's at least odd that the nonprofit created to deal with the city center property is watching from the sidelines while a city-hired consultant has the spotlight on him.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 18, 2014

Contrasting proposals for former downtown mall site

There's a lot going on all of a sudden with the former mall site downtown. You can read the latest story here.
A link to the Goman+York report is available here.
Here is the revised financial proposal from Renaissance Downtowns, which includes information about the funding options for Building B, a mixed-use structure that would face Main Street:



Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 16, 2014

West End could be transformed by road changes


Proposed changes in West End, looking west from School Street.

A preliminary plan for the reconstruction of the West End’s jagged junctions calls for the demolition of two commercial buildings and a handful of residential homes.
The state Department of Transportation plan, kept under wraps for a couple of months, would close off the eastern end of Divinity Street, change the access to Landry Street and shift Route 72 closer to the Pequabuck River.
The two commercial buildings, each more than a century old, are on the northwest corner of the junction, with the recently-reopened Wah Lung restaurant the best known establishment housed in them.
“This really dresses up the West End,” said Mayor Ken Cockayne. Click here to read the story.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 14, 2014

Witch's Dungeon to stay in Bristol

The Witch's Dungeon Classic Movie Museum isn't moving to New York after all.
It's moving instead to the Bristol Historical Society's quarters in the city's first high school on Federal Hill.
Cortlandt Hull, the museum's linchpin, said the new place will be larger by far than the small outbuilding on Battle Street that has housed it for 48 years.
This fall, the display will offer more life-size figures than ever along with original movie props Hull has acquired over the years.
Hull said that Jim Albert, the president of the Bristol-based Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, is largely responsible for making it possible for the museum to stay in its hometown.
I'll have much more about this in the days and weeks ahead.
It's a relief to all of us who know what treasures Cortlandt has to see a resolution that saves the museum for Bristol while simultaneously lending a hand to the historical society and its underappreciated assets. 

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 13, 2014

Don't count Rydingsward out for good

Though Mary Rydingsward came up short in the primary fight Tuesday to see who the Democrats would back for registrar, don't count her out of politics yet.
The final tally against former city Councilor Kevin McCauley was pretty close. And he was always pretty good at racking up votes in his council races.
It's certainly possible that Rydingsward could jump into the municipal election next year as a 1st District City Council candidate -- watch out, Eric Carlson! -- or perhaps even for mayor. She could perhaps give possible mayoral contender Ellen Zoppo-Sassu a tough fight if that ever came to a primary.
After all, even after Tuesday's loss, Rydingsward still has winning record in primary campaigns. And she's never hesitated to take on the Democrats' chosen candidate.
Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

August 12, 2014

Reaction to a judicial ruling that favors cafeteria workers

Reactions to this story about a judicial ruling that went against the Board of Education yesterday:

Mike Petosa, president of the Greater Bristol Labor Council:
"It's time for the Board of Education to stop this madness and to put their people back to work the way it used to be.
"... Go back to the status quo.Let them do the job they were initially hired to do."
He said the judge's decision shows once again "the dedication and hard work" the union has demonstrated in trying protect 53 cafeteria workers whose jobs would be lost if the school cafeterias are privatized.
He said the unions in Bristol "will always fight" to protect the rights of working people that are under assault across the country from Republicans "who want to bust the unions and knock down the middle class."
"We're going to fight it in this city. This city is about taking of its people."

Mary Fortier, Democratic city councilor:
"I am certainly happy with Judge Schuman's ruling but it is a shame that the cafeteria workers have to continue to be ping pong balls in this mess."

Calvin Brown, Democratic city councilor:
School board members "Fitzgerald, Amara, Dolan, Morgan, and Dube have continued to morbidly abuse these 53 cafeteria workers for well over a year now. The Commissioners lost the Labor Ruling, now they've lost their misguided request for a stay on that ruling, and they'll lose again if they continue to fight this vindictive legal battle in the courts. It's time for the Board of Education to admit they illegally bargained in bad faith and stop wasting taxpayer time and money."

Karen Vibert, Democratic Board of Education member:
"On the record, all responses to media are supposed to go through the BOE chair; however, the BOE chair, contrary to Robert's Rules, did not allow me to speak at the last meeting, basically cutting me off and ending the meeting because I disagreed with him, so I will speak here.
"I have been a supporter of the cafeteria workers because last year the BOE negotiating committee and the Union reached a tentative agreement and the Union gave back more at the table in terms of wages and benefits than I ever imagined they would.  It was more than fair.  It was unfortunate that the full Board then voted against the agreement and the issue then went into the costly world of egos and legal battles.  These legal battles may take months, if not years, before final decisions are rendered.  The Republican majority voting to sign a contract with the Whitson company put the Board into more legal and financial jeopardy.  To quote the judge's order, 'The Plaintiff; -- the Board of Education -- 'must accept the consequences of its own choice.'"

Chris Wilson, Democratic Board of Education member and former chairman:
"First of all please be aware my response is my own and not that of the Bristol BOE, However the minority position has not been articulated because it has been in opposition to the majority.
"I believe the Tentative agreement negotiated between  Bargaining unit 2267 and the Bristol BOE was fair. Both sides gave concessions to reach a settlement.
"Unfortunately, the Republican Majority (none of which had been involved in negotiations as a BOE member) decided not to support the agreement.  The arbitration ruling allowed that the BOE could privatize. But one still is compelled to negotiate in 'good faith.' The Labor Relations Board determined that had not happened and their remedy was to put in place the Tentative Agreement.
"At this point,  the majority, has decided to appeal and requested a stay of the Labor Relations ruling. Now that stay request has been dissolved.
"It is clear the board acted prematurely in executing a contract with Whitson’s prior to all of the legal remedies being exhausted. This case is now in the hands of the courts to determine if MR. Amara did not negotiate in 'Good Faith.'
"Since , that ruling,  and any appeal thereof could go either way, I believe it is time to put this matter to rest and not spend any more money on this matter.  From the beginning, this case has been  framed by the majority as saving considerable amounts of money.  It is clear any savings will be eaten up in legal fees.
"I see no reason to spend bad money after good. The cafeteria workers have been put through the mill,  it is time for it to stop. If,  through the tentative agreement the shortfall cannot be reduced then the administration will need to reengineer how it delivers food service. Labor can and should be a part of that discussion.
"It is time for all parties to begin working together instead of in opposition to each other. Enough is enough!"

Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, Democratic city councilor:
"I believe the cost savings that implementing the Tentative Agreement would have achieved last winter would have far outweighed whatever alleged savings and beyond  that is now being spent by the Republican leadership on legal fees to justify their shaky position. The fact that, after yet another setback, they are still trying to insist they are right, is sad and is a distraction from what they should be doing as elected leaders. Three wrongs don't make a right."

Jill Fitzgerald, Republican Board of Education member:
"No comments on the ruling. Need to hear from legal counsel."

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Major changes eyed for West End


This is a close up of a proposed reconfiguration of the West End intersections, looking north toward the main junction of Park and West streets. I'll get a better version soon. This one is grabbed off a picture Mayor Ken Cockayne just posted where he's showing it off to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
Here's a story I wrote in May about the overall project.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com