Fasano Urges Caution, Open to Discussion on Governor’s Criminal Justice Proposals [CT Post]

February 5, 2015

NEW HAVEN — With crime at a 48-year low and sharply dropping in the state’s three biggest cities, the governor wants Connecticut to help nonviolent offenders break the intergenerational cycle of crime and prison.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday proposed rewriting criminal law to make all drug-possession arrests misdemeanors unless there is intent to sell. Mandatory minimum sentences, such as those for possession of drugs in a school zone, would be eliminated.

He also wants to expand the state’s pardon systems to give many more ex-felons the chance to cleanse their criminal records.

Malloy said the budget he will present to the General Assembly later this month will also include new funding for job training and housing support for offenders who are trying to re-enter life after prison.

During a 25-minute address and question session at Yale Law School, Malloy, a former prosecutor, said he wants Connecticut to become a “second-chance society” in which nonviolent offenders can seek help for job training and housing, while violent criminals remain behind bars.

He said the General Assembly will be asked to approve changes to existing law, but the reform effort will need help from outside government, housing advocates, private employers and others.

“I grew up in a second-chance society,” Malloy told a standing-room audience of about 170 people, including students, law enforcement officials, state commissioners, lawmakers and two big-city mayors. “And then we lost our way in the United States. I think it had something to do with unrest in the cities, the explosion of the cities, the Vietnam War and civil disobedience. We seem to have lost our direction. I think re-creating that second-chance society is not going to be done in a single legislative session or overnight.”

Leniency pays

Malloy said taxpayers would be saved money by having fewer nonviolent people in prison at a cost of $45,000 a year, and ex-offenders would not have their chances to obtain employment hindered by felony arrest records for drug possession.

In Connecticut, all drug-possession arrests, except for small amounts of marijuana, are now felonies.

For instance, people arrested with even small amounts of prescription pills, cocaine and heroin face maximum seven-year felony charges. Malloy’s proposal is similar to the recently successful California Proposition 47, which made all drug-possession cases misdemeanors.

“This is the next-appropriate thing we have to do,” Malloy told reporters after he received a standing ovation from the audience. “I think it’s time that we stopped treating addiction as a felony. Addiction is addiction. Possession of a controlled substance may constitute a crime, but I think it should be a misdemeanor.”

About 300 pardons are issued annually by the appointed Board of Pardons, but under the governor’s proposal, 1,000 or more could be anticipated.

Timothy Everett, professor of criminal law at the University of Connecticut School of Law, said he supports Malloy’s proposal to reclassify drug possession.

“The difference between misdemeanor and felony liability is so important to a person who wants to be employed in the future,” he said. “This makes sense. It certainly looks like an enlightened social policy.”


But Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, had mixed feelings about Malloy’s proposals. He said people facing drug-possession felonies have many diversion programs and plea bargaining available before they face actual prison sentences.

“Nobody goes to jail or gets hit with a felony on a first drug offense,” Fasano, a lawyer, said in a phone interview. “We try to do everything we can, and the social services do a great job of keeping people out of jail, unless someone is not working to stay away from drugs.”

In a phone interview, Fasano, who was invited to the governor’s speech but had a scheduling conflict, said he has a problem with making it easier for ex-convicts to clear their criminal records through the Board of Paroles and the Board of Pardons.

“We don’t have a good track record with paroles,” Fasano said, suggesting a middle ground in which non-violent offenders could be fast-tracked. “If there’s a backlog, let’s talk about getting rid of the backlog,” Fasano said.

He said for reasons of transparency, the state should be cautious in granting pardons.

“Employers want to know if the person they’re considering to run a cash register has an embezzlement issue,” he said, adding his caucus will soon offer an urban agenda.

A report issued last week indicates that violent crime in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford declined 15 percent in 2013, and overall crime is down more than 35 percent.

Malloy’s 27-year-old son Benjamin recently completed a five-year sentence of probation for an attempted BB gunpoint robbery of marijuana in Darien in 2009. In November 2007, he was arrested on drug-possession and dealing charges in Greenwich.