There are other reforms, too

Forgotten in this Cheshire mess is the sentencing commission that started work in May, which was charged with looking at how to change the state’s sentencing laws for the better. Ah, back in May, when Komisarjevsky was still on GPS monitoring and the Petit women were alive.

Glad to hear that someone thought to ask them of their other business. Cheshire has overshadowed the fact that CT has draconian drug laws and there is a racial disparity in sentencing and even charging.

[New Haven Public Defender Tom] Ullmann and several other members suggested the task force may be missing a chance to make long-term changes in the justice system.

Others said the group will continue to discuss issues such as mandatory minimum drug sentences and racial disparity in sentencing even as it deals with parole system gaps exposed by the Cheshire case.

Some of the juicy things on their agenda:

The task force divided into four subcommittees that would discuss alternatives to incarceration, sentencing structure, the racial imbalance in prisons and how to classify some drug offenses and other crimes that carry a broad range of possible sentences.

These are all excellent areas of investigation and reform. Thankfully last year the legislature eliminated the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing (I think…I may be imagining it).

Prison overcrowding is an immense problem and all of these avenues will help to reduce it and hopefully, get to the source of the problem for most drug offenders: addiction.

I wish there was some way to study racial disparities in charging, but it seems too daunting a task.

Of all the groups commenting on Cheshire, this task force has been oddly silent. Not all members agree:

Some members say the task force should lend its voice to the Cheshire debate so the state does not make any rash changes.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to respond,” said Andrew Clark, a group member and the administrator of the Institute for the Study of Crime & Justice at Central Connecticut State University. “We have to ask tough questions and come up with real solutions.”

But there has been, at least for some members, a shift in focus.

The sentencing task force changed its focus at the same time. It studied tougher burglary laws and looked at the impact a tougher “three strikes and you’re out” law would have on prison overcrowding.

“It’s almost like members are bending over backward to join the throng of punitive measures,” said Jon Schoenhorn, a task force member and president of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. “It violates the entire purpose of why this task force was created.”

“Three strikes laws” + prison overcrowding: Not gettin’ better any time soon.

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