Welch calls for halt to early inmate release initiative [Bristol Press]

September 19, 2012

A controversial program designed to reduce recidivism among convicted offenders released from prison is under fire from Republicans, including area legislators calling for a suspension of the initiative. Proponents of the program say the Republicans’ concerns are purely “political.”

The Risk Reduction Earned Credit initiative went into effect in September 2011 with little debate and even less information, said state Sen. Jason Welch, R-Bristol/Plymouth.

“We never got to have a true debate,” Welch said hours after he was part of a Republican contingent who staged a hearing on the initiative. “We shouldn’t be making these kinds of policy decisions this way.”

The initiative is designed to reduce recidivism among offenders by offering an incentive for taking programs while incarcerated that would help them remain arrest-free after being released.

Inmates earn five days a month off their sentence if they complete programs required in their offender-accountability plan crafted by corrections officials.

Republicans admitted they have bucked the plan since its beginning two years ago but said they felt the need to stage their own hearing Tuesday after two recent highly publicized murder cases they said involved convicts who were released early.

The problem, said Michael Lawlor, a former co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee who is now Gov. Dannel Malloy’s undersecretary of criminal justice policy and planning with the state Office of Policy and Management, is that the RREC didn’t play a role in the release of either of the men accused of murder in the recent cases.

Frankie Resto of New Britain, accused of killing a Meriden store owner in July, earned credits but “stayed in longer” than the required 85 percent of his sentence before he was released, Lawlor said.

Kezlynn Mendez of East Hartford, accused of killing a convenience-store employee in East Hartford in August, served his entire four-month sentence and wound up not retaining any credits before he was released in March 2012, he also said.

“(Resto) did 91 percent of his sentence,” Lawlor said.

“He did longer than he would have done three or four years ago.”

The tally for Mendez is in question, according to state Victim Advocate Michelle Cruz, who figured he received 30 credit days on a seven-month sentence and was released into the community with little oversight.

Cruz based her figures on various sources, she said.

She is asking for a suspension of the initiative and wants the retroactive aspect where the credit days are calculated back to 2006 removed. “That broke the faith of hundreds of victims,” Cruz said. She also contends the credits are calculated haphazardly and there isn’t enough supervision when an inmate is released.

Lawlor said Cruz’s calculations are inaccurate and that Mendez didn’t qualify for any credits when he served a four-month sentence earlier this year.

He also said state Republicans or Cruz have yet to come to his office to ask questions or get a detailed explanation of the initiative since its inception.

But, he said, Republicans have continually used the initiative for political reasons.

“It’s election time, it’s not time to have these types of

discussions,” Lawlor said. “This is purely political stuff. I know all of these legislators, if they were serious they would have called up and said can we have a dialogue about this?”

Lawlor and state corrections officials declined to show up at Tuesday’s hearing.

But they will be attending a presentation on the initiative during next week’s Criminal Justice Policy Advisory Commission meeting.

Welch is calling for a halt to the release of violent offenders until more information is offered. “I just want to hit the pause button for violent offenders until we can sort through and have the debate we never had,” Welch said. “I was troubled by the information Ms. Cruz presented, but I understand there is another side.”