As part of their legislative package to be sent to lawmakers before the session starts Feb. 9, the state’s Sentencing Commission on Wednesday approved a proposal to the legislature to allow some people the ability to petition to get off the state’s sex offender registry.
The proposed bill would allow those who were placed on the state’s sex offender registry for 10 years to petition the court after five years to have their names removed or moved to a law enforcement registry that can’t be accessed by the public. Those who are on the registry for life will not be able to petition the court for removal, under the current proposal.
It’s a controversial move that in past years has not been taken up by legislators even though the commission was tasked in 2017 to review the registry and come up with reforms.
“We live in a patriarchal society where this crime is belittled constantly and we’re just creating more mechanisms for that to continue,” said state Victim Advocate Natasha Pierre, who argued vigorously against the proposed bill and voted against it.
Other commission members who back the proposed law said it would increase public safety by narrowing the number of people on the registry. Close to 1,000 of the 5,974 people on the registry are not in compliance with address confirmation requirements, according to information provided by the registry.
“The reality is there [are]is more than 5,000 registrants in the system,” said Robert Farr, a former legislator and a former chair of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. “Hartford has 700. What does anybody expect for supervision when there’s 700 cases and 22 murders?”
While nine members of the commission, including Farr, voted in favor of the bill, two voted it down: Pierre and Marc Pelka, Undersecretary of Criminal Justice for the state Office of Policy and Management. Another seven members of the commission abstained from voting, including Deputy Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Lawlor, Ansonia/Milford State’s Attorney Margaret Kelley, Appellate Court Judge Joan Alexander, Chief Court Administrator Judge Patrick Carroll, Judge Vernon Oliver, state Department of Correction Commissioner Angel Quiros, and Brian Foley, representing James Rovella, commissioner of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. Foley said his abstention was related to budget concerns.
In order to be removed from the registry or placed only on the law enforcement registry, a registrant would have to demonstrate that they are in compliance with the registry requirements and the conditions of their release, including parole or probation, and are not a threat to the community.
Under the proposed law, a judge would have to consider the person’s history of sex offender or behavioral health treatment, the results of any relevant evaluations by behavioral health professionals, the person’s history of employment, the person’s compliance with parole or probation requirements, the results of a risk assessment, and any other factors before approving the removal. Victims would be allowed input as part of the process.
The law would be retroactive to anyone who is currently on the registry for 10 years. If the petition is denied, the person couldn’t reapply to be removed for another five years.
Commission Would Nix ‘Cost of Incarceration’ Law, Extend Voting Rights
The commission also agreed to send three other potential bills to the legislature, including a proposed law that would end the state’s practice of charging former inmates for their incarceration by seizing any sizable assets such as a lawsuit settlement or an inheritance.
The state collects $5 million to $7 million a year through the “cost of incarceration” law that went into effect in the 1990s, according to the state Department of Administrative Services, which is the agency that collects the money.
Advocates, including Attorney Sarah Russell, who is both a commission member and the director of Quinnipiac Law School’s Legal Clinic, contend that the current law prohibits formerly incarcerated people from getting back on their feet and helps to entrench families in generational poverty.
The commission is also backing a law that would give voting rights to people who are incarcerated with a felony conviction and restore voting rights to those who have recently been released but are on parole or in a community setting where they are being supervised. Under the proposal, only those serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole would be prohibited from voting.
Those proposals were taken up by the General Elections and Administration Committee during the last session but were not approved by the House or Senate.
The commission also is seeking clarification of a law passed last year that allows some people who are serving prison time to request a sentence modification. The law that was signed by Gov. Ned Lamont in July allows people who were sentenced to prison after a trial, or if they were incarcerated for seven years or less as part of a plea agreement, to apply to have their sentence modification request heard by a judge without the approval of a state’s attorney.
Under the previous sentence modification law passed in the early 1980s, only those who were serving less than three years in prison could seek a sentence modification without the approval of a state’s attorney.
But the 2021 update to the sentence modification law that was passed in June didn’t specify that it applies retroactively to people who are already serving prison time, according to the commission.
The commission wants the 2021 law changed to make it clear that people who are already serving prison time are allowed to apply for a sentence modification.