Republicans Dispute Democrats’ “Tougher Life Sentence” Claim

April 4, 2012

McKinney, Kissel: Repeal of Death Penalty and Democrat Amendment will make it more likely Connecticut’s most violent murderers will be treated like less violent criminals

Hartford, CT – As Democrats in the General Assembly prepare to repeal the death penalty, Republican lawmakers are disputing the Democrats’ claim that those convicted of the new crime of “murder with special circumstances” will be segregated from the general prison population and serve tougher prison sentences than those currently incarcerated for life.

“The claim is simply not true,” said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney (R-Fairfield). “The Democrat amendment gives Connecticut murderers an escape hatch to avoid the harsher conditions of incarceration that the proponents claim and that current death row inmate’s experience.”

Under current practice, all prisoners on death row are segregated from the general prison population, housed in single cells, and allowed outside of the cell only two hours a day.

The Democrat proposal repeals the death penalty and eliminates the capitol felony charge in the state of Connecticut. If the bill passes, the new crime of “murder with special circumstances” will be subject to Connecticut’s most severe punishment. Republican lawmakers say it isn’t severe enough.

The Democrat proposal gives decision making authority to the commissioner of corrections who makes a risk assessment determination for any inmate convicted of the new offense and only orders the “segregated program” in instances where the inmate will pose a threat or risk to staff or other inmates. That means it is at the discretion of the commissioner to determine where a death row inmate or person charged with the new crime of murder with special circumstances will serve his sentence.

“If the commissioner deems that an inmate is reformed or does not pose a threat to the staff or general population he is likely to be afforded the superior living conditions and quality of life afforded less violent criminals. They could be housed in bigger cells, given additional privileges, including work for pay and visiting rights, and eligible for as much as 8 hours of recreation time each day,” said Senator Kissel.

The Democrats contend that their proposal largely mirrors a proposal made by Senator Kissel. Senator Kissel says this is false. “My proposal would have ensured that if the Democrats are successful in repealing the death penalty, we could at least assure victims’ families that Connecticut’s most violent murderers will serve life sentences in conditions equivalent to those currently serving on death row. The Democrat proposal doesn’t come close to accomplishing this,” he said.