Conn. Senate OK’s bill giving inmates a shot to reduce sentence
HARTFORD — The Democratic-controlled Connecticut Senate voted yesterday evening to place limits on which prisoners should be allowed to shorten their sentences by earning credits for good behavior under a new program. But it wasn’t enough to satisfy Republican senators.
Senators, on a mostly party-line vote, approved an amended bill, 21 to 14, that would prevent prisoners currently ineligible for parole, such as murderers, from participating in the program backed by the administration of Governor Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat. The vote followed approximately seven hours of debate, which at times became heated.
“The facts before us are undeniable, that individuals who committed heinous violent crimes will be entitled to early release — good credit risk reduction credits, you can call them anything you want — they get to get out earlier,’’ said Senate minority leader John McKinney, Republican of Fairfield. “It’s called getting out of jail earlier than you’re supposed to.’’
Democrats pointed out how the bill also makes it clear that the Department of Correction commissioner, who decides whether an inmate can earn credits, cannot use the program to reduce a criminal’s mandatory minimum sentence.
There are about 64 offenses under Connecticut law that carry mandatory minimum sentences, said Senator Eric Coleman, a Bloomfield Democrat and cochairman of the Judiciary Committee. In the case of an assault of a pregnant woman, for example, the maximum sentence is 25 years and the mandatory minimum that must be served is 10 years. Under this program, the 10 years must be served and any reduction would be shaved from the remaining 15 years.
“We’re not talking about release any time in the near future,’’ Coleman said.
Senate majority leader Martin Looney and other Democrats said people need to realize that almost everyone who enters the state’s prison system will eventually be released. Looney said it makes sense to create a system that gives prisoners an incentive to participate in programs that can reduce the chance they will reoffend.
“What this program will provide is a better way to make sure they get some meaningful programs while they are incarcerated,’’ said Looney, adding how Connecticut and New Hampshire are the only New England states that do not have some kind of sentence reduction program to help reduce recidivism.
Senator Edward Meyer, Democrat of Guilford, called the bill balanced and said there were widespread exclusions from the credit program.
“This is a very important direction for Connecticut. We’re going in the wrong direction now,’’ said Meyer, referring to the state’s high reoffender rate. “This is not a gamble. This is based on the experience of other states, other countries and federal policies. It will bring us in a new direction, a new direction that will . . . ensure a much higher degree of public safety.’’