Criminal justice reform roundup

With the Judiciary Committee hearing today and Gov. Rell’s sentencing task force committee hearing yesterday, there are just too many stories out there to cull into one cohesive post. So I’ll leave you with the links and update later tonight.

From the good folks at CT News Junkie comes this brief report on yesterday’s hearing, at which the Gov. herself testified.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s Sentencing Task Force received an earful Monday about how to improve Connecticut’s criminal justice system. The task force, which was formed in response to the deadly home invasion in Cheshire last summer, heard testimony from victims, as well as, legislators, parole officers, and the governor herself.

It’s been reported that since Rell halted the release of violent offenders to parole the prison population has increased, but what hasn’t been talked about much is the workload of parole officers–tasked with making sure parolees are able to successfully transition back into the community.

Tonia McCown, a parole officer for 15-years, told the task force that while more scrutiny of parolees is fine, more officers will be needed to accomplish the task. McCown said she has about 50 to 55 cases at the moment, but given the increased supervision–35 to 40 would be more realistic. Corrections Department Commissioner Theresa Lantz said she would do the best she could to get more resources for parole officers.

The Stamford Advocate has this fantastic roundup of the Office of Fiscal Analysis’ study [pdf] of all the legislative proposals. The most expensive are the Republican’s proposal for a three strikes law and the co-chair’s behemoth.

[Jud Committee Co-chair Mike] Lawlor said the leading Republican three strikes proposal would likely cost too much. It calls for an automatic life sentence for any offender convicted of a third dangerous felony. The state’s existing three-strikes law gives a judge the power to impose any sentence, up to a life in prison, for those convicted of a third violent felony.

The fiscal analysis found there are about 103 such offenders each year. They are now sentenced to an average of eight years in prison, the study found.

It costs about $4.3 million to keep 103 offenders in prison for one year. The cost of imprisoning three-strikes inmates would jump $4.3 million per year with each annual imposition of life sentences. In the 50th year under such a proposal, the state would be spending nearly $225 million on inmates sentenced to life in prison, the analysis found. The changes could require a new 1,000-bed prison, costing about $100 million, every 10 years, the analysis found.

The Advocate story also mentions an equally real but non-monetary impact of such a three-strikes law: An increase in the number of trials.

Lawlor said the Republicans’ “all or nothing” proposal would spur defense attorneys to duck the three-strikes law by having clients facing a third conviction plead guilty to something other than a dangerous felony.

“No one in their right mind is going to plead guilty to life without the possibility of release,” he said. To avoid such deals, prosecutors would be forced to go to trial, Lawlor said.

Presiding over dozens, or hundreds, of extra trials each year could cost the state about $5 million annually in staffing costs, the analysis found.

Finally, I keep hearing from Gov. Rell and Comm’r. Lantz that hundreds of non-violent offenders will be released to make room for all the violent offenders. It’s been 4 months since her “ban” went into effect and no one has been released. Meanwhile the prison population has ballooned, leading to this protest outside the hearing yesterday and another one today.

“Many non-violent offenders are behind bars, and that’s making them violent,” said Barbara Fair of People Against Injustice.

Owen Kozlovich said he saw conditions behind bars firsthand. He was released from the prison Monday after being jailed for failing to pay child support.

He said he was locked up with violent offenders, housed on a gymnasium floor with 50 other prisoners and only one corrections officer.

“When you cram that many people into a room, eventually someone’s going to blow their top,” he said.

Kozlovich said that the system is broken and a parole ban isn’t a proper solution.

Today’s hearing will definitely be interesting. I’ll post whatever information I get at the end of the day. If you hear something, leave a comment.

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