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“This ill-conceived law must be repealed immediately,” Pavalock said.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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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. 

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