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Parole Panel Hears Testimony

Supervision Called Safest Way To Return Offenders To Community

By MARK PAZNIOKAS, Courant Staff Writer

November 27, 2007

Two months after suspending the paroles of offenders serving time for violent crimes, Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Monday she has no idea what reforms will satisfy her that the system is safe.

"There is no hard criteria," she said.

Rell made her comments after testifying before the Sentencing and Parole Review Task Force, a panel she created after two parolees were charged in the slaying of a woman and her two daughters in their Cheshire home last summer.

The task force heard witnesses testify that community supervision, either under the terms of parole or probation, is the safest way to re-integrate offenders into the community.

"That's my No. 1 takeaway today supervision makes all the difference," said Lisa Holden, a co-chairwoman of the task force.

Lou Paturzo, director of the New Day transitional program for offenders in Hartford, warned that some inmates will complete their sentences and be released without supervision if Rell's suspension continues indefinitely.

Rell suspended the paroles of additional violent offenders in September after James Biggs, a Connecticut parolee, was shot and wounded by New York police after a carjacking in Hartford.

The system already was reeling from the discovery that the defendants in the Cheshire case, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, had been paroled without a mandatory review of their sentencing transcripts.

Robert Farr, the chairman of the Board of Pardons and Parole, said officials have obtained 2,000 transcripts and 1,200 presentence reports to consider in future parole hearings.

"So we have taken substantial steps," said Farr, also a member of the task force.

Paturzo told the task force that Biggs had sought entry into New Day, but was unwilling to meet the program's requirements for living in one of its two rented three-family houses in Hartford.

"He lasted one session with us," Paturzo said.

The task force heard from correction and parole officers, relatives of victims and others whose lives have intersected with the criminal justice system.

Ramona Rivera, whose 8-year-old son, Royel Taft, was struck and killed by a car while playing in a fenced-in yard last year, questioned why the driver had repeatedly received suspended sentences for a variety of offenses.

"She never spent a day in jail, not one single day," Rivera said.

The driver, Natasha Kinion, now is jailed as she awaits trial on manslaughter and drug charges. Police said she was high on PCP when her Jeep crashed into Rivera's yard.

The task force, which is examining everything from how defendants are charged and sentenced to how they are released from prison, hopes to issue recommendations next month.

"Everyone wants to improve the system. There is no silver bullet, no easy answer," Farr said.

The legislature's judiciary committee, meanwhile, is holding a public hearing this afternoon on legislation proposed in response to the Cheshire slayings.

Rell, whose administration is about to begin work on a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, said she already anticipates spending increases to cope with higher fuel costs and criminal-justice reforms.

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.
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