Truth in sentencing

In 1994, Connecticut joined the vast majority of states in enacting the ‘Truth in Sentencing’ law, which did away with good time and other early release opportunities for inmates. It established a three-tiered system for parole: non-violent offenders are eligible for parole upon serving 50% of their sentences, violent offenders upon 85% and murderers not at all.

The bill was in response to growing outcry that people were getting off too easily, some after serving only 10-30% of their sentences. “So we need truth in sentencing”, they said. “We need to know exactly how long people will serve!” Fine, whatever. It is a legislative scheme and it is what it is.

Then prison populations ballooned and recidivism was dropped as an objective of incarceration altogether. Last year, a much needed risk reduction credit bill was passed, awarding 5 days per month to certain inmates while they were in programs in jail and if they didn’t get any disciplinary tickets. The legislature capped this at 50 days per year. The purpose was to encourage inmates to enroll in programs in prison – whether to educate themselves, get psychiatric help or overcome a substance dependency. And it makes sense. The best way to help prevent crimes in the future is to attempt to address the causes of those crimes in the present. If a person robs banks because they have a crippling addiction to crack, locking them up for 5 years is one way to deal with the problem, but it’s not very useful when that individual leaves the jail in 5 years, with no job skills, no education and that same addiction to crack.

But good sense is too much for some legislators. Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-Goshen) and candidate for Congress put on a show at the Capitol yesterday, bringing with him crime victims who were shocked to hear that some inmates were earning this credit and it meant that their eligibility for parole was advanced by some 200 days.

Eligibility. That’s the key. Our supreme court has repeatedly ruled that there is no liberty interest in parole. Which means that the 50% mark of your sentence could come, and you could get a hearing and the parole board could still make you serve 100% of your sentence. And no one can do a damn thing about it.

Every criminal defense lawyer (the ethical ones, at least), tells their clients that they should expect to serve 100% of their sentence. If they get out early, consider it a windfall.

But apparently that’s not what prosecutors and victims advocates are telling victims:

It wasn’t welcome news. The couple [parents of the decedent] said that after the 1996 murder they agreed to accept a plea bargain that allowed Gargliardo to cop to manslaughter and a 27-and-a-half-year sentence. The only reason they said they agreed to the lesser sentence was to avoid putting their four-year-old grandson on the witness stand. They said the possibility of him getting parole parole sooner than that wasn’t fair.  “They promised us,” Lee DeGrosse said.

Who, exactly, promised them that is unclear. But they’re victims and they’re allowed to feel any way they want. Who isn’t allowed to tag along is an elected member of our legislature, who is presumed to have some critical reasoning ability. There is no functional difference between ‘tough on crime’ and ‘dumb on crime’.

To make matters worse, Roraback wants to be heard. And he wants to be heard now. So much so that he’s threatening to vote against his moral convictions on the death penalty, unless these credits are repealed.

There is nothing more disgusting than playing with an issue as important and fundamental as the death penalty over a half-baked and utterly ridiculous idea.

In the name of victims, he purports to do something that will only cause more harm. Take away credits and we return to a time where inmates had no incentive to better themselves, to arm themselves with the opportunities to succeed in the real world. To give them the tools to step away from a life of crime, not embrace it with open arms again because no one cares about them.

In the name of protecting victims and the lies they were told, he moves only to harm them further and create more of them.

As former Judiciary Co-Chair Mike Lawlor explains:

“If you’re going to pick a group of inmates you didn’t want to recidivate, you would start with violent offenders I would assume,” he said in a phone interview.  Lawlor said that the credits don’t ensure an inmate is released early, they only allow them to be up for a parole hearing sooner. During those hearings victims and families are given an opportunity to testify and the board can decide not to release them, he said.  “I’m not aware of any violent offender who’s been released without serving 85 percent of their sentence,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s actually quite unlikely.”

And that’s entirely true. Parole can – and will – likely say “That’s great Mr. X. We grant you parole. At 85% of your sentence. See you in three years.”

Go ahead Mr. Roraback. Vote against your convictions and against common sense. We’ll vote with our convictions and repeal the death penalty anyway.


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