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A Prison Population Shift

Some Inmates May Get Out Early To Make Way For Violent Offenders In Parole Freeze

By MARK PAZNIOKAS, Courant Staff Writer

September 25, 2007

As many as 1,200 inmates serving time for nonviolent crimes will be considered for early release to make room for violent offenders ineligible for parole under new policies ordered by Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Rell, who indefinitely suspended new paroles for violent offenders Friday, said Monday that the early releases will allow the state Department of Correction to manage any population increase caused by the parole suspension.

"We will ensure that violent offenders who pose a risk to society stay behind bars while continuing to help nonviolent offenders make the most effective transition possible back to society," Rell said.

The governor tightened the rules for parole Friday in response to the arrest of James Biggs, a career criminal paroled Aug. 30 for the third time in two years. He was released without the electronic monitoring that Rell had ordered for violent offenders after two parolees were charged in the slayings of three members of a Cheshire family in July.

Biggs was shot and wounded by New York police early Friday as he exited a car that police say he had stolen at knife-point Thursday from a 65-year-old man in Hartford.

In addition to barring violent offenders from parole, Rell ordered correction officials to examine the records of 1,590 current parolees to see if there are grounds to reincarcerate any of the 600 to 800 parolees with convictions for violent crimes.

Rell also ordered parole officials to delay the release of between 400 and 600 inmates who have been approved for parole until she is assured that all records were reviewed in their cases. The suspects in the Cheshire killings were released without such a review.

The governor's office said that correction officials had returned to temporary custody a half-dozen parolees who should have been fitted with electronic monitoring.

The increased use of electronic monitoring since the Cheshire slayings has caused a shortage of the equipment, Rell's office said.

Rell said she has no plans to transfer inmates out of state or to seek emergency steps to expand prison capacity.

The co-chairmen of the legislature's judiciary committee invited Rell to testify at a public hearing next week about how her administration intends to manage the parole suspension, but Rell declined, saying that the statement she released Monday about her parole policy spoke for itself.

Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chairman of the judiciary committee, said the committee still might invite correction officials to testify about how they would screen the nonviolent offenders for early release.

State law requires nonviolent offenders to serve at least half their sentences, and inmates who committed violent crimes must serve at least 85 percent, he said.

Lawlor and his co-chairman, Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, said they agree with Rell's decision to suspend parole for violent offenders until the program is reviewed.

But Lawlor said one likely outcome - greater electronic monitoring, including the use of sophisticated global positioning satellites to track parolees - will require additional funding.

"All these options come with a price tag," he said.

One new parole officer will be needed to monitor every 30 inmates placed on GPS tracking, Lawlor said.

Lawlor also said he believed the tighter scrutiny for parole will lead to a larger inmate population.

The state's prison system was designed for 17,000 inmates and now has 19,000.

The population has increased by 280 since the Cheshire slayings, he said.

Without new capacity, a higher inmate population will pose dangers for staff and provoke the intervention of the federal courts, Lawlor said.

Robert Farr, chairman of the board of paroles and pardons, said he supports the moratorium ordered by Rell, but that eventually the parole of violent offenders will resume as a matter of public safety.

With proper monitoring, parole remains a valuable tool, he said.

Studies show that inmates who are released to parole or other supervised programs are less likely to commit new crimes than those who are freed without supervision after completing their sentence.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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