(Opinion) Something dangerous is developing inside the state’s prisons. It’s not an infectious epidemic, wild government waste or even the expected corruption, but a new law tacked to the underside of Governor Malloy’s gun bill that will inevitably threaten public safety by eliminating parole supervision for offenders convicted of violent crimes.
Section 59 of the Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety repealed the state’s old parole law—General Statue 54a-125a—and substituted a new version that prevents the application of RREC (“Risk Reduction Earned Credits”—five days credited to inmates’ sentences for each month they remain free of discipline and fill their days with productive activities) to violent offenders’ parole dates.
Since July 1 of this year, RREC applies only to violent offenders’ ultimate release dates; their parole dates stay where they are while their end of sentence dates fold in on them. The following examples demonstrate the revised statute’s effects:
• TW, convicted of vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to nine years, will end her sentence after 7.6 years when RREC is applied; her parole date arrives at the same time. Under the new law, she will spend six days under parole supervision versus 425 days supervised under the old statute.
• AP, convicted of manslaughter, will serve 12.6 years for her crime. Under the new law, only four months of parole supervision will follow her incarceration whereas 15 months of supervision would have capped her time in prison under the old parole statute.
• FB, convicted of First Degree Robbery (armed robbery) has been sentenced to five years (60 months) in prison. With RREC her sentence will be reduced to 51.5 months; her parole date arrives 51 months into her sentence. She will spend two weeks under supervision under the new rule versus the seven months she would live under parole supervision without the legislature’s counter-productive change to the parole statute.
• MS, convicted of Conspiracy to Commit First Degree Arson and sentenced to twelve years, will end her sentence three months before parole date under the new law. When RREC was applied to both her end-of-sentence and parole dates, parole officers would have supervised her for a year and a half. Now that lawmakers have rewritten the statute, she will spend no time under parole supervision at all. No supervision.
• Many other inmates convicted of violent crimes have received notice that they will never be considered for parole; they will leave at the end of their sentences to no supervision. No supervision.
Reduction of recidivism—the return of released inmates to prison for new offenses—is best achieved by supervision of ex-offenders, namely parole, according to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics because it provides the support or “training wheels” necessary for an ex-offender’s new life on the outside. Even Governor Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice, Michael Lawlor, said himself in the 2011 Annual Recidivism Report that “supervision and treatment programs… have demonstrated success” in reducing recidivism in Connecticut. By essentially eliminating parole for violent offenders, Connecticut uses more incarceration and less supervision when the state itself says that less incarceration and more supervision is what works to rehabilitate offenders successfully. The new parole law practically assures re-offending by released prisoners and an increase in crime.
Under the old parole statute, end-of-sentence and parole release dates inched forward together, lockstep, in hopes of gradually cutting the state’s overcrowded prison population while keeping an eye on people who had been released. The prospect of parole supervision never diminished with RREC applied to violent offenders’ parole dates.
Even if these released prisoners serve periods of probation supervision, ex-offenders can post bond for those violations and run free for months, even years, to commit even more crimes whereas a violation of parole gets them collared immediately with no bail options. Parole is more effective than probation and remains infinitely cheaper than incarceration; that’s why the legislature passed the original parole and the RREC statutes in the first place.
Debates about prison reform, rehabilitation and the effectiveness of mass incarceration will rage forever. What remains undisputed is that over 90% of Connecticut inmates will move out of prison someday and become your neighbors. Do you want us moving in next door without parole supervision? If not, then the Connecticut legislature must return to the former parole statute and abandon its new, backward version—fast.
Chandra Bozelko & Mary Ames are inmates at York Correctional Institution in Niantic.