Sen. Kissel Questions New State Parole “Point System” [Associated Press]

July 19, 2011

The Associated Press — New Connecticut parole guidelines call for keeping convicts out of prison for first-time violations including drug use or even leaving the state without permission.

The policy assigns points to a range of violations such as a first failed drug test, which is worth 30 points, and recommends alternative intervention such as drug treatment programs or increased supervision until the point total reaches 100.

A copy of the guidelines was obtained by The Associated Press.
Republican state Sen. John Kissel, the ranking Republican on the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said he is concerned the guidelines take too much authority away from the parole officers who know best whether a parolee is a threat.

“My major concern is it takes away some of the human element,” said Kissel, who said he will ask for a legislative hearing to review the guidelines. “We have parole officers who are highly trained to make judgments and this clearly takes away some element of discretion.”

Correction Department spokesman Brian Garnett said Monday it is Connecticut’s first statewide parole policy. He said the guidelines, which took effect in August 2010, are meant to standardize procedures and do not prevent an officer from sending any inmate back to prison.

“Parole officers are given discretion to deal with offenders based on their experience and expertise,” Garnett said. “This is a guideline. It is not in any way intended to block them from utilizing their discretion in taking an offender off the street.”

One parole officer who spoke to the AP, however, said they have been told not to consider sending parolees back to prison until that person’s score reaches 100 points.

“There are offenders who should have been violated and have not been violated,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear that it would lead to professional repercussions. “With the way the point system is, unless a supervisor overrides the guidelines, we have to go by the scoring according to the guideline system.”

The officer said they are still allowed to take into account whether an inmate has a history of violence or extensive drug use, and the guidelines can be modified in those cases.

The enactment of the policy coincides with a decline in the prison population, which has fallen to a 10-year-low of about 17,600, down 2,300 inmates since 2008.

The Correction Department did not immediately have statistics available that would allow a comparison of the number of parolees re-incarcerated since last August, to numbers from previous years. But a monthly report showed there were 1,599 people out on parole in June, compared to 1,577 during June 2010, an annual change of just 1.4 percent.

Luke Leone, president of AFSCME Local 1565, who represents parole officers, alleged last week that officers have been told not to report all problems that would send violators back to prison and not to issue violations for failed drug tests.

He warned that more inmates on the streets could result in more crimes like the 2007 home invasion in Cheshire, in which two paroled burglars were accused of killing a mother and her two daughters.

“It’s not now if another Cheshire happens but when a Cheshire happens,” he said, “because I think another incident like that is capable of happening.”

Garnett called that “ludicrous.”

Violations for parolees are ranked from “low severity behavior” to “high severity behavior.”
Under the new guidelines, only “high severity behavior” such as a felony arrest, a sexual offense, failing to report the removal of monitoring equipment, or possessing a gun would result in an automatic remand. Removing monitoring equipment and later reporting that is considered a “moderate” violation, worth 70 points.

Low severity behavior would include things such as missing a parole or drug-treatment appointment (20 points), or receiving a traffic ticket (30 points). Moderate severity would include things such as unauthorized contact with a victim or co-defendant (70 points) or possessing a knife (80 points).

The system increases penalties for second offenses. A second failed drug test, for example, is worth 40 points. But the score is reset to zero after 180 days without a violation.