Department of Correction Commissioner Scott Semple is changing how Connecticut’s risk reduction program works in an effort to incentivize good behavior.
Semple announced the changes to the program Tuesday.
The current program, approved by the legislature in 2011, allowed all inmates the ability to reduce their prison sentence by up to five days a month. Under the new program, the security risk level of the inmate at the facility will determine how many days per month they can earn. The prisoners with the higher risk levels will be able to earn fewer days per month than prisoners with lower risk levels.
Under the revised program offenders with a Security Risk Level of four will now receive three days per month of Risk Reduction Earned Credits per month, while offenders with risk levels of two and three will have earned four days of credit per month. Offenders with an overall risk level of one will still receive five days of credit per month.
“The revised structure will motivate offenders with higher security risk levels to engage in programming and positive behavior in order to reduce their risk levels, and receive more earned credits,” Semple said. “With offenders motivated to comply with institutional rules, this new policy has the added benefit of enhancing staff safety.”
Under legislation passed in 2013, violent offenders must serve 85 percent of their sentence and are unable to earn credits. Under legislation passed last year, manslaughter, first degree manslaughter with a firearm, aggravated sexual assault of a minor, persistent dangerous felony offenders, and persistent dangerous sexual offenders are not able to earn credits to reduce their sentences.
But that’s not good enough for Republican lawmakers, like Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, who wants to see the state scrap the program.
Markley joined former Sen. Len Suzio and Fapyo Ghazal, the son of a Meriden gas station owner who was killed by an inmate who had earned these credits, for a press conference Tuesday afternoon at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
Markley suggested the state suspend the program until it can “be set right.”
He said the legislature needs to vet the program and make a decision about its future.
Suzio, who is a member of the Victim Advocate Advisory Committee, said he still wants to see the program abolished.
The way it’s been implemented “is tragic and flawed,” Suzio said.
But Sen. John Kissel, ranking Republican on the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said he thought the changes announced Tuesday by Semple were a “good start to reforming a program which has seen its fair share of controversy.”
Kissel said the program had fallen victim to a “a rubber stamp mentality that has not achieved the rehabilitative aims that were its mission.” He said the programs the inmates participate in, in order to earn these credits, have to be meaningful.
Meanwhile, Suzio said the Correction Department was supposed to deliver a report on the Risk Reduction Earned Credit program to the legislature on Jan. 1, but so far has failed to submit it.
Michael Lawlor, the governor’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy, said the report, which covers about 39,000 inmates who have entered and exited correction facilities since 2011, will be released next week. The information on how many credits were earned and what happened to the inmates will continue to be released on a monthly basis after that first report.
Suzio said he doesn’t see the program reducing the risk of the crimes the inmates have committed. That’s based on information he obtained through Freedom of Information requests related to the first 50 months of the program.
Based on his methodology, 100 criminals were readmitted to prison for murder or manslaughter and 396 sexual assault crimes were committed by inmates released early. Asked if he expects that information to be in next week’s report, Suzio said he doubts it.
However, the legislature was specific about the data it wanted compiled.
According to the legislation, the Correction Department of the Office of Policy and Management’s Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division, will report on the total number of inmates released and the number released early as a result of earning risk reduction credits. It wants them to report on the criminal convictions of the released inmates, the amount of credits earned by inmates released early because of the credits, and any recidivism data on inmates released early because of the credits, such as reentry rates into prisons, time between release and return to prison, and the criminal convictions that resulted in their return to prison.