GOP: Malloy’s early release program must be reformed

September 16, 2014

Op-Ed as it appeared in the Bristol Press

Arthur Hapgood was released from prison 233 days early as a reward for successfully completing a drug rehabilitation program, taking part in various prison classes and programs, and holding a job. But while in prison, he also failed three drug tests, refused to take a fourth, assaulted an inmate and helped two other inmates escape. When he got out on November 19, 2013 he was put on probation. He subsequently failed three more drug tests including one the week before he was arrested and charged with the murder of 1-year-old Zaniyah Calloway in Bristol, a murder that occurred when Hapgood was allegedly high on PCP.

The case of Arthur Hapgood and the murder of Zaniyah Calloway is an unspeakable tragedy and no policy change can bring back a life that has already been destroyed. However, the state has an obligation to change a system which rewarded and released a dangerous felon, who obviously had not been rehabilitated.

Governor Malloy’s Risk Reduction Earned Credit program that allowed Hapgood to walk out of prison early has become a conveyor belt for releasing criminals with no regard to their record. It directly threatens public safety, and we need to reform it immediately.

The stated purpose of the risk reduction program is to protect the public by rehabilitating offenders and implementing programs that assist inmates with individual needs. The goal is to help inmates reenter society and not resort to future criminal behavior. But if those programs can be successfully completed without the inmate gaining any value, let alone changing the behaviors and habits that lead to criminal behavior, how is the public any safer?

Hapgood received drug treatment, but continued to take drugs while incarcerated. He clearly needed more help, but the system failed to deliver it. Instead, that same system gave him credits for “successful” treatment – credits that allowed him to leave prison earlier than he should have. Society was put at risk, and the Calloway family paid a heavy price. Hapgood is responsible for the death of a child, but so are the officials who turned a blind eye to his repeated drug use, his failed drug tests, and his growing transgressions in prison. Hapgood has a lengthy criminal record dating back to 1995 for selling drugs, criminal possession of a firearm, illegal possession of a firearm, felonious larceny, robbery and escape.

Governor Malloy has responded to this tragedy not by trying to correct the flaws that allowed this violent criminal to leave prison. Instead, he has dodged the real issue, denied the problem, and claimed we are better now than we were before. The truth is we are no better now than before so long as criminals are allowed to leave prison early without showing any real sign of rehabilitation. We are no better off if criminals know they can play the system, sign up for a class and get out early — even when they break the law.

Malloy has also used the excuse that Hapgood would have been out of jail during the murder even if he served his full term. This argument continues to skirt the real issue. The governor’s overriding public policy of releasing criminals as soon as possible, and a reluctance to return them to prison when they continue to violate the law, is just not right. Hapgood should not have been let out early; he should have been punished for his infractions. But the system is designed to keep the prisoner moving towards the door as quickly as possible. There is no effort to prevent a person who needs more treatment from leaving early. There is simply a formula to keep the conveyor belt moving. The real purpose of Governor Malloy’s early release program is to decrease the amount of people in our prison system to save money, and therein lies the problem.

Many people can and do reform themselves in prison, but the system is also full of Hapgoods. The governor cannot deny the existence of these people any more than he can deny the dangerous failures of the early release program. If public safety is of any concern to the governor he would be working to fix these failures, not refuting their reality.