Tag Archives: connecticut

Lawmaker pondering sensible reform to sex offender registry

Finally some good news on the criminal justice reform front. Mike Lawlor, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, is also on the State Risk Assessment Board, which is charged with – you guessed it – assessing the risk of the state’s registered sex offenders. Lawlor wants to streamline the registry so as to provide more relevant information on those who have the highest risk of re-offending.

Lawlor sees room for improvement. He wants the Connecticut registry to attach “risk levels” to each offender to help people understand who poses a danger and who, likely, does not. It’s an idea modeled on states like Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, where “actuarial” risk assessment—a social science-based prediction method—is used to analyze a sex offender’s likelihood of re-offending, and where only those determined to have a high risk are placed on the internet. Based on the experience of the states that have done this, high risk offenders typically make up only 10 to 20 percent of the sex offender population.

In 2006, Lawlor pushed for the formation of the Risk Assessment Board, charged by the legislature with analyzing the state’s more than 4,600 registered sex offenders and stamping each as high, medium or low risk. The board is made up of high-level public officials—the commissioner of Correction, the commissioner of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the commissioner of Public Safety, the chief state’s attorney, the chief public defender, the chairperson of the Board of Pardons and Paroles—as well as a governor-appointed victim’s advocate, forensic psychiatrist, a risk assessment expert and members of the relevant legislative committees, including Lawlor.

The article actually does a good job of explaining the risk assessment methods and compares it to the traditional subjective approach employed by therapists.

Further, people may finally be catching on to the real problems of registries and the dangers it poses:

It’s counterintuitive, acknowledges the study’s author, David D’Amora, a licensed therapist who heads the Center for the Treatment of Problem Sexual Behavior and sits on the Risk Assessment Board. But the reason for the possible increase [in recidivism], he says, is fairly straightforward: Registered sex offenders have a harder time getting jobs and finding housing, and people without jobs or housing are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and to re-offend. When your life’s a mess, the theory goes, it’s harder to keep your behavior in check. “When you over-respond to the lowest risk people,” says D’Amora, “you end up making them more dangerous.

“With the best of intentions we are putting in place things that are decreasing the ability for people to have appropriate jobs and appropriate living,” says D’Amora, “and those are two of the things that are most important to decrease recidivism. The unintended consequence is making things more dangerous.”

Of course, there’s a long way to go and with the current political climate, who knows if this will ever come to fruition. I hope it does. If not, can they at least legislate that condoms be made available in jails?

Looking at things the wrong way

The Courant has this article today, seeking to make much of the under-utilized persistent felony statutes in Connecticut. All it does, instead, is underline the need for more rehabilitation programs.

Meet Richard D. Halapin Jr., a small-time career burglar and thief who earlier this year broke into his sister’s home and stole the family’s jewelry – including a wedding ring and her three children’s golden baptism crucifixes. The cherished items were sold to get money for a drug fix.

The perfect lead in, you’d think, to an article examining the rehabilitation programs in prison that help inmates like Halapin kick their habit and go on to lead productive lives upon release. Of course, the Courant, which is going the politician’s course and trying to look “tough on crime”, doesn’t walk through the open door. Instead they give us this: “[H]e may be the best living proof that an entire category of Connecticut laws – designed to increase punishment for “persistent offenders” – is under-used, at best, and at worst, useless.”

What a novel idea for a story! I’d imagine the pitch went something like this:

Journalist: “Boss, I found this woman in Naugatuck whose brother stole from her.”

Editor: “HOME INVASION! OMG! HEADLINES FOR ANOTHER MONTH!”

Journalist: “He’s a druggie and spent most of his life in jail.”

Editor: “OMFG! VIOLENT CRIMINAL! STATE LAW IS TEH SUCK!”

Okay, so not quite like that. But I’ve always wanted to use “teh suck” in a post.

Halapin’s sister and the state’s victim advocate say that he’s a symbol of failings in the state justice system.

Yeah, the failing being that the root of the problem is almost never addressed. Drug dependent inmates plead to non-drug dependent crimes, drug rehab programs in prisons are scarce and spaces are limited and it is left to the inmates to seek treatment upon release. Not to mention that they get jacksquat upon release.

It’s sad that the Courant missed this opportunity to examine the real problem leading to re-offending and instead chose to focus on the worn drum.

Previous posts on the topic of rehabilitation while incarcerated:

History must teach us something

Stan Simpson has this fine piece in the Courant today, urging legislators to learn from the State’s past and resist the urge to simply expand prisons as a solution to reforming the criminal justice system.

The last time the state went on a massive prison expansion escapade, it spent $1 billion to build 12 new prisons – the last in 1996. The overcrowding problem got worse, not better. Inmates were sent to out-of-state facilities.

Prison expansion was costly and largely ineffective. The state Department of Correction’s budget ballooned, from $92.4 million in 1985, with 5,379 inmates, to $605 million this year. In recent years, Connecticut got smarter and embraced prison-diversion alternatives for nonviolent offenders.

This recent enlightenment is what led to Connecticut being reported favorably in a private report released by the Pew Charitable Trusts back in February. Connecticut was one of two states, the other being Delaware, that was projected to have no increase in its prison population. That, obviously, no longer holds true. The policies that the State put in place and followed, however, are still valid.

“When an event as tragic as the Petits’ occurs, obviously, the first response is to identify why it happened and to do everything to prevent it from happening again,” said Ryan King, policy analyst for The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based prison reform advocacy organization. “Unfortunately, that response has traditionally been longer sentences of some kind, restricting parole release, those sorts of things. And the fact of the matter is there’s been very little empirical evidence that any of them have had the advertised effect.”

“The conversation that can’t be lost in this dynamic is that at the end of the day, creating and maintaining comprehensive re-entry services for individuals is a better way of increasing safer communities,” said Maureen Price-Boreland, a member of the governor’s task force and executive director of Community Partners in Action, which runs re-entry programs for former offenders.

Stan suggests that legislators should not overreact, but instead invest in job training, drug counseling and housing assistance programs, reserving prison beds for the “true incorrigibles”.

Now, will legislators listen?

Meanwhile, there was a community meeting in Hartford last night, where ex-offenders and their families confronted Gov. Rell Commissioner Lantz about the negative effects of the parole ban.

The Clean Slate Committee also made demands of Lantz. They asked her to guarantee that by Nov. 30, every inmate released from incarceration would be given a state-issued identification document and that the state review of all parolees and inmates eligible for community release programs would be completed by Nov. 21. They also asked that the governor establish a commission – to include former inmates, their families, advocates, public officials and two members of Clean Slate – that would work on parole and community re-entry.

Lantz agreed to establish such a commission, but said she could not meet the deadlines on the other two demands.

Alex Kelly is no David Pollitt

One of the two crim justice stories of the day was the impending release of Alex Kelly, who is finally done serving his time for two 1986 rapes. He was in court today to find out whether he would be released despite the fact that he has not yet paid the $10,000 fine levied along with his prison sentence.

Mr. Kelly didn’t get that much needed promotion working in the commisary, so he didn’t have quite enough to pay the fine prior to release and being a 40-year old man, his parents weren’t going to pay it for him. Luckily, the Judge decided that he couldn’t be held past his maximum discharge date and that he would have to pay the fine as if it were restitution – on a weekly or monthly basis during his probationary period.

Alex Kelly is famous for several things, notable among them the 8 year period he spent on the lam in Europe, making wine while absconding from Connecticut. He is also famous for sitting somberly through his parole hearing a few years ago and upon hearing that parole was denied, losing it and yelling at the board members.

Meanwhile, the Governor’s phone has been silent. Maybe she passed the time watching that awful, awful movie about Kelly.

208 (FL) prompts calls for EyeID Reform

As the dust on the 208th DNA exoneree had barely begun to settle, Broward County public defender Howard Finkelstein sent a letter to law enforcement officials suggesting a change in identification procedures.

Bostic’s [the exoneree] accuser recently told an investigator she never saw her rapist. She picked Bostic out of a photo lineup, she said, because she had seen him in the neighborhood in the days before the attack.

Simple extra precautions could keep this from happening again, Finkelstein said.

“These procedures will impact the human cost of misidentification,” he said. “This isn’t about pointing the finger at law enforcement. This is about making sure the methodology and the systems we employ are designed so innocent people don’t get ensnared in our system.”

Currently, Florida uses the non-blind, non-sequential method of identification. Finkelstein called for them to use the double-blind, sequential method. Law enforcement’s response was curious, if not typical:

“If we had concerns about the procedure, we would have changed the procedure,” said Elliot Cohen, spokesman for the Broward Sheriff’s Office. “But new ideas and new proposals are always worth looking at, and we’ll take it in that spirit.”

At least eyeid reform seems to be gaining some momentum. 16 states have considered some legislation in this regard during the past year. Connecticut, although one of those sixteen, couldn’t get past simply funding a pilot program. I’m not even sure that the pilot program has gone into effect.

Appellate Court ARO 10/24/07

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The Appellate Court released two criminal opinions (yes, they are criminal!) today. In State v. Mourning [pdf], they upheld the defendant’s convictions for conspiracy to commit murder, manslaughter and possession of a firearm.

Two interesting issues raised on appeal were that 1) there was insufficient evidence to prove the conspiracy and 2) the jury’s verdicts on manslaughter and conspiracy to commit murder were legally inconsistent. The court quickly dismissed the insufficiency claim, holding that there was plenty for the jury to conclude as it did. On the inconsistency argument, the appellate court conceded that the specific intent required for each was different. However, it then pointed to appellate precedent to claim that it didn’t mean they were mutually exclusive. The defendant claimed that where, as in this case, the “act” was a single gunshot, you cannot have two separate intents. With the same gunshot, you cannot intend to kill the victim and seriously injure him.

No dice, says the appellate court, seemingly saying that one is a lesser of the other. I think they’re plain wrong.

There is also an interesting confrontation issue, involving an inmate who claimed he had seen the shooting. The inmate provided a statement, but prior to testifying, invoked his fifth-amendment privilege. The appellate court held that the claim was unpreserved because defense counsel did not pursue the offer of proof. Habeas alert!

Oh wait, no. The court seems to kill any habeas claim by stating that it’s possible that this inmate’s testimony was cumulative, which is why his statement was not admitted by the trial court.

I hate when they do that.

On to the next: State v. Moreno-Cuevas. Here, the defendant- who appeared pro-se – raised some vague claim of constitutional error in addition to prosecutorial and judicial misconduct impropriety. He was convicted of trespass because he chose to remain on campus at his university well past the 10pm limit that was imposed. The Court says there isn’t an “inkling” of a Constitutional claim here. Goodbye.

By the way, if you’re a PD in Connecticut, after you read this, you better go to New Case News and read a fuller synopsis.

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Cheshire warrants to be unsealed

Yesterday, Judge Damiani ruled that redacted versions of the 11 search warrants used by police to investigate the Cheshire killings be unsealed. The Hartford Courant sought to have the warrants unsealed, presumably to keep publishing sensational stories.

The defense’s argument is a logical one: Given the existing media coverage, it will be difficult to find an impartial jury. If further details from the warrants are made public, specifically the alleged confessions, the task gets even more arduous. Judge Damiani’s response was to have portions of the warrants redacted. Which portions? We do not know.

Tom Ullman showed up at the last hearing with a thick binder with contained all the media coverage of the killings up to that point, documenting the extreme reactions of the people of Connecticut. That folder is about to get thicker.

Besides the fact that this would be a cash cow for the press, I cannot think of another reason why the Courant is so invested in having these warrants unsealed. Their argument that “the citizens want to know” or “have a right to know” or some such nonsense doesn’t outweigh the defendant’s right to have a fair trial by an impartial jury.

This will just make the already difficult task of picking a jury for a capital trial that much more difficult.