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Suzio: Connecticut’s early release law

If you thought the “Early Release” law was a dangerous and bad law from the beginning, then revelations in the last 2 months will have your blood boiling. But before I explain the latest scandalous revelations pertaining to the early release of violent criminals in Connecticut let me review some history.

On June 27, 2012 Meriden residents learned of the cold blooded murder of an innocent store owner, Ibrahim Ghazal. Within a few days Frankie “the razor” Resto was arrested and charged with the crime. That’s when Meriden residents first learned of a new and dangerous state law that lets violent criminals out of jail, sometimes long before they have served their time. Frankie Resto was a “graduate” of the “Early Release Program” and had been released early from Connecticut prison 2 months before Ibrahim Ghazal was murdered.

From its inception the Early Release Program was flawed. Thousands of hardened criminals were given early release credits retroactive to 5 years before the law was passed. But as details of the program unfolded the State Victim Advocate announced that criminals were being given credit for programs they had not taken. Other criminals were earning credit for courses such as the “history of the Philippines.” Resto was given early release credits even during the time when he had set his jail cell on fire and had exhibited violent and anti-social behavior!

As state senator last year I learned that the Early Release law forced the Department of Correction to release inmate Resto early and without a sponsor to watch him. The DOC and the Board of Pardons and Paroles knew Frankie Resto was dangerous but the new law forced them to release Resto into our neighborhoods before his sentence was served and without rehabilitation.

Now for the most recent scandalous developments related to Early Release:

In July 2013, the non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) announced that the Department of Corrections had overspent their budget by more than $23 million. The OFA blamed most of the spending overrun on the failure of the Early Release program to generate the “savings” that had been promised. Families and civilians are exposed to dangerous criminals released under the Early Release program and now taxpayers don’t get any of the promised savings either!

Most recently, on August 6, a Department of Correction whistleblower leaked a secret memo that described a new and dangerous policy to be initiated by the Department of Correction. The secret memo stated that the Department of Correction would ignore the “stipulations and contingencies” mandated by the Board of Pardons and Paroles for prisoners who are to be released early from prison. These stipulations and contingencies are intended to protect the public from unrepentant violent convicts and criminals with drug addictions and are based on information the Board is mandated by law to review to prevent another tragedy like happened to the Petit family.

The pressure to cut spending is so great that the Department of Correction now will ignore the precautions required by the Board of Pardons and Paroles. And don’t let Undersecretary for Criminal Justice Mike Lawlor’s doublespeak confusion you; the new policy applies to violent criminals and drug users as well as non-violent criminals.

Mike Lawlor, the Governor’s chief architect of the Early Release law responds to the criticism of the program with bogus statistics. The Early Release law is bad law, not because of statistics. It is bad law because it is irresponsible law that releases into the public convicts who have not been rehabilitated and still need treatment.

The harsh reality is that there are not enough resources in the prisons to provide adequate therapeutic treatment of criminals who are let go early. Under the new scheme many of these criminals will be released to private residences. But supervisory personnel and resources are stretched thin too. Can a hardened and unreformed criminal let loose into a private home be trusted not to engage in criminal behavior? That is a risk that is too big to take - some already have paid with their lives. Ask the family of Ibrahim Ghazal.

Len Suzio is an Advisory Board Member, Office of the Victim Advocate, Connecticut.



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