House Democrats held a press conference late Wednesday to respond to House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero’s letter claiming a bill passed Tuesday by the House offered “good time” credits to pedophiles and violent inmates.
Rep. Gerald Fox III, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, House Speaker Chris Donovan and House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey joined Corrections Department Commissioner Leo Arnone to clarify for reporters the intent of a provision included in a 289-page implementer.
That provision would allow prison inmates to earn credits toward early release by participating in programs designed to ease their transition after their release from prison. The program would allow inmates to earn a maximum of five days per month, to be taken off the end of their period of incarceration. That works out to no more than 10 percent of their sentence, Arnone said.
During debate over the measure Tuesday night Cafero decried the provision as offering time off to pedophiles who simply obey prison rules. He sent a letter to lawmakers Wednesday making sure they understood that when they passed a bill yesterday offering good time credits to inmates it included almost all inmates even those convicted of violent crimes.
Cafero said that, while responding to questions on the floor of the House, Fox misrepresented what the language of the bill actually stated.
Democrats quickly drafted an amendment Wednesday, which they said clarified that the measure would not apply to prisoners who are convicted of certain crimes: murder, capitol felony, felony murder, arson murder, first-degree aggravated sex assault and home invasion.
“It had been my understanding and it was my understanding that certain crimes that would be ineligible for parole would also be ineligible for early release. Apparently there’s a question as to whether or not that is in the bill and there’s an easy enough fix that we can do,” Fox said.
Democrats also rejected Cafero’s claim that anyone in the correctional system could receive “good time.”
“Good time” refers to a program instituted by the state in the 90s, which allowed inmates to be released early for good behavior. Arnone said that is not the intent of the program, which aims to reduce repeat offenders by incentivizing treatment.
Treatment programs are already in place within the system and have been proven to reduce crime, he said. The risk reduction credit concept only adds an incentive at the other end of the system, he said.
“We’re not opening the doors and kicking people out. What we’re doing is making people work and get involved with programs in order to reduce recidivism,” he said.
References to good time and good behavior within the provisions language are requisites to keep the points inmates earn, Arnone said. An inmate may earn 5 days one month and then lose those days for bad behavior the next, he said.
But following the press conference, Cafero maintained the provision was designed to allow the DOC to award inmates “good time.” He said the only reason Democrats called the press conference was to back track off the policy after Republicans called them out on it.
“If it’s not broke in your opinion then why are you fixing it? I don’t get it,” he said.
The state’s laws must be clear, Cafero said, because the department’s leadership is subject to change and another commissioner may interpret vague language differently.
Cafero also offered a much longer list of crimes that he said should make an inmate ineligible for the program.
“Quite frankly somebody convicted of aggravated sexual assault against a minor to be given up to 300 days of early release time for good behavior doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever,” he said.
However, Democrats said they would not be adding those crimes, noting those offenders will be released when they complete their sentences regardless but they are less likely to offend again with treatment.
Click here to read the proposed amendment.