Levar Corbett summed up the crowd's sentiments Tuesday night:
"Oh man oh dam, you can't take away parole
That's a big decision to make so you should take it slow
And think about what chu really doin', was this all for public safety
Or do you know who you really screwin'."
Corbett, a member of a New Haven youth rights group, was one of hundreds of people who attended a Hartford community meeting to confront Gov. M. Jodi Rell about what they perceive as the negative effects of her temporary ban on parole for violent offenders.
Correction Commissioner Theresa Lantz was in the hot seat at the United Methodist Church, though, because Rell sent her instead.
The meeting, organized by the Clean Slate Committee, a nonprofit group formed this summer to address the needs of inmates re-entering society, became a session for venting about redeemed loved ones being held past their prison release dates.
It was also a chance for people to express their belief that not enough is being done to help released inmates find jobs or housing, or become productive members of society.
When Rell banned parole on Sept. 21 after a parolee stole a car at knifepoint in Hartford, political pressure for action had already been mounting.
In July, two parolees were accused of killing a mother and two daughters after holding them hostage and beating the father at their home in Cheshire. Those slayings led Rell to order a review of the parole system, which Lantz admitted Tuesday has caused a slowdown in "discharge fluidity" and a tightening of the criminal justice system.
"It is unfair to punish those who have already served their time," countered Nitza De La Paz, whose husband is still awaiting release after serving 4 months on a technical violation of his parole. He was originally given a release date of Oct. 1, she said.
"It is unfair to punish one person or even 20,000 people for the actions of two heartless individuals. Yes, reforms should be made, but not at the expense of so many reformed individuals and their families," De La Paz said. "My husband did not commit those heinous crimes, so why is my family one of the many families suffering?"
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.
The Department of Correction hopes to have a system in place by January or February to issue state Department of Motor Vehicles identification to each inmate before release, she said.
And she said she hopes that the review of parole and probation will be done by the end of the year, but that it has moved "too slowly" because the state parole board needs to obtain sentencing transcripts and other police and court records before it can make informed decisions.
The parole board did not have such documents when it decided to release the two inmates accused in the Cheshire slayings, and officials have said the two might not have been released if it had. The governor's task force on sentencing and parole was told Thursday that a computer system will be set up by January so the parole board can easily view court records and other documents.
As for complaints about the parole ban, Lantz supported Rell and her decision. She frustrated many in the crowd when she deferred responsibility to other state agencies or entities - the parole board or the legislature - over which she has no control. But she told the crowd she was committed to helping smooth the path of inmates re-entering society.
Lantz told one former inmate, who complained about not being able to find work, that she knows there are "collateral affects of having a record."
"I have nothing to do with the board of pardons and paroles," Lantz said. "I'm not the person denying you a job in the community."
Shirley Williams of New Britain shot back at Lantz minutes later: "You say you don't have the authority for certain things. Well, why don't you work with those who have that authority?
"Everybody deserves a chance."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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