With the 2012 legislative session set to begin next month, a freshman lawmaker said he will attempt to repeal part of the prisoner early release program passed last year.
Rep. Dan Carter, R- Bethel, said he plans to propose legislation to make sex offenders ineligible for the new Earned Risk Reduction Credit program.
Under the initiative, inmates can earn credits to shave up to five days a month off their prison sentences by participating in programs designed to ease their transitions back into society and reduce the likelihood they will commit the crime again.
Credits have been applied to 2,897 inmates since the program began in October, according to the most recent statistics from the Office of Policy and Management. Of those discharged early under the program, 163 have been registered on the state sex offender list. On average, they have had their sentences reduced by about 34 days as a result of the credits.
Carter said it was a mistake to include sex offenders and violent criminals in the program.
“Last spring residents of this state watched majority legislators put the public at risk just to save a buck,” Carter said. “They allowed the unthinkable: letting convicted sex offenders out of prison early, instead of pursuing structural budgetary changes that would produce meaningful and measurable savings.”
Michael Lawlor, the governor’s top criminal justice adviser, said Carter’s efforts are misguided. The purpose of the program is to reduce crime in Connecticut, he said.
Typically, sex offenders serve their entire prison sentences and do not get parole, Lawlor said Monday. That means the state’s ability to supervise them after they are released is limited, he said. It also means they have no incentive while they are incarcerated to undergo treatment that could make them less likely to offend again, he said.
“What’s in it for them if they are not going to get parole?” he asked.
The credits provide that incentive, Lawlor said. But Carter questioned the effectiveness of the state’s treatment programs.
“I think most people will agree that sex offenders, in particular, pose a significant risk to the community—especially when there are legitimate concerns about the state’s ability rehabilitate them,” he said.
Lawlor said that most types of sex offenders are not necessarily more inclined toward recidivism. He said OPM does an annual report on recidivism for the legislature and this year’s report will focus on different types of sexual offenders.
Lawlor suggested Carter may be misinterpreting the program as a partisan issue and said it’s really about implementing policies that have been proven to work in both blue and red states.
“I’m not advocating some kind of liberal version of criminal justice,” he said. “I think people who are going to advocate any changes to our law should read up on what other states are doing.”
Connecticut’s law is actually more conservative than a similar program in Texas, where an inmate considered a violent offender can cut 10 days a month off his sentence simply by behaving, he said. A non-violent offender can cut 20 days without participating in any programs, he said.
Lawlor also pointed to the principles of the conservative website RightOnCrime.com. Those principles, signed off on by national figures like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, call incentive programs a conservative criminal justice policy.
“Because incentives affect human behavior, policies for both offenders and the corrections system must align incentives with our goals of public safety,” the principles state.
Regardless of whether the issue is perceived as political nationally, not a single Republican voted for the budget implementer bill which contained the program in Connecticut. Some Democrats voted against it as well.
Carter said Democrats stuck the program in a budget implementer to circumvent a public hearing and the committee process.
“I hope that this time around victims and the general public can comment on the policy,” he said.
Lawlor said the program was originally included in a stand alone bill that received a full public hearing and the initiative was originally proposed by the Department of Corrections commissioner under Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
“This has been extensively discussed over the course of two administrations,” he said.