I am a firm believer that some violent offenders should be made to do their whole prison sentence. I can tell you this from first-hand experience. I am in prison.
I am forced to deal with violent offenders every day. Some violent offenders are malicious, angry and bitter people who deserve to serve every second of their sentences. But it is a bad idea to just eliminate parole altogether for violent offenders as is being debated in the General Assembly.
The judicial system should not be one-dimensional. Violent offense charges can come in many different forms. Instead of just plain denying parole to all violent offenders and deciding to "lock them up and throw away the key," the system should have flexibility. Prisoners should be evaluated and considered for parole individually. Look at their records and see what they have been doing while in prison. Have they made any life-changing achievements? What were they convicted of and why? Every inmate who has an assault on his record isn't going to go out and commit a murder or another violent crime.
If you were to look up my charges on the computer, for example, you would see that I was convicted of second-degree assault and second-degree manslaughter. At first glance you might think I am a terrible person, a horrible and dangerous criminal. I am not. I am just a person who made a terrible mistake — a mistake that resulted in the tragic loss of life and serious injury to two people very close to me. It is a mistake that I will regret for the rest of my life.
In 2002, I was the cause of a car accident that claimed the life of my best friend and seriously injured my youngest daughter's mother. Trying to find a way to forgive myself for this has been the hardest part of my time in here. I still have not.
I have made the best of my time while in here, however, with the hope that I would be recognized and rewarded for it. During my incarceration I have attained my high school equivalency diploma, taken vocational programs, attended numerous self-help programs and started my college education. I even discovered a talent I have for art and am now a self-taught sculptor who has a dream for the future.
I hope to get home to my two daughters — by way of parole or halfway house — because of my good behavior and accomplishments. Because of Gov. M. Jodi Rell's recent decision to bar parole to all violent offenders, it seems that opportunity has been taken from me.
Gov. Rell banned parole for all inmates convicted of violent crimes in light of the recent incidents involving parolees.
The tragedy of the Petit family in Cheshire is still fresh in all of our minds. My heart goes out to Dr. William Petit Jr. and his family. These acts were committed by heartless violent criminals. They were despicable, atrocious and inexcusable acts of inhumanity that disgusted the Cheshire and prison communities alike.
But as repulsive and horrifying as this crime was, it is unfair to condemn every inmate for the acts of a few parolees. It would be like saying that society should not have politicians anymore because they might abuse their power, take drugs while in office, mismanage funds, take bribes for city contracts or molest young children. Connecticut would be missing all of its mayors and the governor if we followed that logic.
Certain prisoners have earned and deserve the chance for parole. It is unfair to deny a whole category of prisoners parole because of the thoughtless acts of a few individuals. By taking away parole and halfway houses, you leave no incentive for violent offenders to behave while in prison. Taking parole away will only cause inmates to become more violent while they are serving their time in prison. Inmates who are barred from parole privileges will more than likely go home — when they have served their sentences — full of resentment, with a chip on their shoulder and with a general disregard for society.
As someone who is viewing this from an inmate's standpoint, there is no denying that change is needed in the prison system. I don't believe, however, that change will be achieved by flat-out denying parole to all inmates who have earned the right for that privilege.
Parole reform should be of less concern than that of improving prison policies, programming and educational needs. Because of prison overcrowding, money that should have been spent on education and training inmates with job and vocational skills has been usurped and directed toward housing inmates and paying for more guards. Because of the lack of education and job skills learned in prison and the insufficient number of job placement programs, the level of recidivists returning to prison remains the same. The focus should be less on punishment and more on creating opportunities for prisoners for when they go home. This way they won't want or need to continue a life of crime.
I find the idea of taking away parole for people who are already serving 85 percent of their sentences a devastatingly ineffective solution toward parole and prison management. I can foresee this causing only further problems.
I am sure we can all agree on one point: Something needs to be done about this situation. A change is needed and the time is now.
Joseph Cusano IV is an inmate at the Carl Robinson Correctional Institution in Enfield. He has served more than four years of a 10-year sentence that is to be suspended after seven years.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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