Republicans Fault Early Release Program For Baby Stabbing [Courant]

September 11, 2014

By JENNY WILSON | Hartford Courant

Connecticut Senate Republicans said Wednesday that the fatal stabbing of a baby in Bristol last month was the consequence of a early release prison program that “frankly puts public safety in jeopardy.”

But Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who signed the early release program into law, countered that one-year-old Zaniyah Calloway’s death was a crime the suspect could have committed even if he had served out his entire sentence.

Arthur Hapgood, who is charged with murder in the Aug. 18 stabbing, was released from prison last November after serving 90 percent of a sentence for a 2008 robbery. Republicans held a press conference Wednesday to illustrate flaws in a system that – in Hapgood’s case – granted early release to a man who failed multiple drug tests and helped two inmates escape from a halfway house.

“Bad guys need to be kept in jail. That’s the only way society functions,” said Sen. Len Fasano, who led the press conference along with senate Republican leader John McKinney.

Under the Risk Reduction Credit program, Hapgood accrued early release credits by taking classes, working a job, and fulfilling a drug evaluation and treatment course. Republicans questioned how Hapgood could have completed the requirements of an addiction services program even though he failed three drug tests and did not show up for a fourth.

Call for accountability

“Cases like Hapgood are happening all the time and we’re finding out about them after the fact,” said Fasano, who called for more oversight in the program. He said the warden of a correctional facility should sign off on every prisoner who qualifies for early release in order to establish accountability in the system.

Sen. John Kissel said the early release program had “laudable goals” but in practice had fallen victim to a “rubber stamp mentality” that did not achieve the rehabilitative aims that were its mission.

“You create an environment within the corrections institutions where the inmates feel that they are a little more clever…than the administrators that are running the system,” Kissel said. “A wink and a nod – oh yes, I’m taking this program, but I know I’m getting out.”

The program saves about $40 million in the state budget annually, McKinney said, describing it as a policy that was designed “not to make Connecticut safer, but to get people out of our prisons to save money.”

“Why? So we could say our prison population is down. Because when our prison population is down, we get to tell people in Connecticut that we’re actually safer,” McKinney said. “It’s a terrible policy.”

Malloy defends program

Malloy defended the policy Wednesday while speaking to reporters after an event in West Hartford, and said the program had indeed made the state a safer place to live.

He accused Republicans of being untruthful by blaming the baby’s stabbing on the early release program because “they didn’t point out that this crime that he committed was after 100 percent of [Hapgood’s] sentence had been completed.”

Malloy said that crime had dropped significantly since he had become governor, as had the recidivism rate – the percentage of prisoners who re-enter the corrections system after they complete their sentences.

“We don’t have open-ended sentencing in this country and nor is it legal except in the very limited cases,” Malloy said. “Quite frankly, I think what these folks are trying to do is win an election by scaring people.”