HARTFORD, CT — Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, armed with data he said showed that 14,008 serious crimes have been committed by people who have been gotten out of prison under the early release program called on the governor to suspend the program.
“The information I have received through a Freedom of Information request shows what a catastrophic failure the governor’s early release program has been,” Suzio said Tuesday.
A spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the information was “shamelessly cherry-picked to paint a laughably dishonest picture of crime in Connecticut.”
Suzio alleged the raw data he obtained from the Department of Correction showed there have been over 14,000 serious violent crimes that have been committed by individuals who have been discharged from prison since the program started in 2011.
“I’m talking about murder, rape kidnapping, all kinds of serious assaults,” Suzio said at a Legislative Office Building press conference Tuesday. “The data I have received is shocking. It shows that every single one of these crimes has been committed by a person who has not been reformed.”
The state’s Risk Reduction Earned Credit system, which allows an inmate to be released from prison early if he or she participates in programming behind bars went into effect in Sept. 2011.
“The continuing high degree of recidivism and the shocking number of 14,008 violent crimes committed by early release convicts who were supposed to reform their behavior is glaring testimony that the program is not working,” Suzio said.
Suzio says he put the data into a software program created by his banking business in order to make the calculations and draw his conclusions.
It didn’t take long for the governor’s office to refute Suzio’s claims with the recidivism rate data.
Recidivism rates are calculated every three years so the last cohort of prisoners were released in 2014. The information about recidivism rates between 2005 and 2014 shows new arrests are down 9 percent to 60 percent, new convictions are down 17 percent to 45 percent, return to prison rates are down 5 percent to 53 percent and new sentences are down 8 percent to 34 percent.
It doesn’t mean recidivism has evaporated. Fifty-three percent of the 11,293 prisoners who were released in 2014 returned to prison, according to the data.
Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for Malloy, said Suzio’s so-called data intentionally ignores the progress the administration has made in the area.
Since Malloy took office in 2011, statistics show that overall crime in the state has declined 19 percent, including a 19-percent decline in violent crimes, the governor’s office said in a statement.
Connecticut over the last five years has had the second largest drop in reported violent crime of any state in the nation, closely behind New Jersey. Of the 50 states, only 16 have experienced a drop in violent crime over that same period, the governor’s office said.
The statement added that violent criminals are serving longer sentences today than they did when the Risk Reduction Earned Credit system was implemented.
“Len Suzio’s credibility is dropping as quickly as Connecticut’s crime rate,” Appleby said. “It’s not a coincidence that a senator desperately clinging onto his seat holds the same press conference, replete with his own alternative facts, every election year.”
Appleby went onto allege that “Senator Suzio’s end game would see more people — mostly people of color — locked up for longer periods of time, and our state would only be less safe. Today’s press conference was an embarrassment.”
Suzio conceded he didn’t have any information comparing the number of prisoners released under the early release program compared to the number of prisoners released under whatever programs were in place before the Earned Risk Reduction Credit program was put in place.
“I think the new law is worse than the old law,” Suzio insisted.
But a recent poll of likely Connecticut voters shows strong support for criminal justice reform across the ideological and political spectrum.
The poll found 58 percent of the voters agree it’s important to reduce the number of people in prison, and 72 percent agree that prison is not the only answer to crime.
The poll was conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut’s campaign for Smart Justice.
Voters were asked about their views on the size of Connecticut’s prison system, the purpose of the criminal justice system, treatment of people returning to society after incarceration, how to respond to drug addiction within the context of the criminal justice system, the existing Earned Risk Reduction Credit program, and what types of policy positions voters seek from their elected officials.
The poll found that 82 percent of Connecticut voters, including 92 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of unaffiliated voters, and 71 percent of Republicans, say that people who have been convicted of a crime can turn their lives around with help.
Additionally, the poll said that 86 percent of Connecticut voters support the existing Earned Risk Reduction Credit program, including 53 percent who strongly support it.
Suzio’s Democratic opponent, Mary Abrams, wasn’t impressed by Suzio’s presentation.
“We need laws that keep our residents safe, but politicians like Len Suzio manipulating numbers is exactly what’s wrong with Hartford,” Abrams said.