Bill expanding offenses ineligible for risk reduction program advances

April 7, 2017

by Mike Savino
Meriden Record-Journal

A legislative committee approved adding four new crimes to a list of offenses that are ineligible for the state’s risk reduction earned credit program.

The crimes include first-degree assault, assault of a disabled, blind, or elderly victim, assault of a pregnant woman and first-degree sexual assault.

The expansion, taken from a broader list proposed by Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, was included in revised legislation that would require the Department of Correction to codify regulations for the risk reduction earned credit program.

The bill was advanced Tuesday by the Judiciary Committee with a 35-6 vote.

“Adding to the list of crimes not eligible for early release is definitely a move in the right direction,” Suzio said.

Currently, ineligible convictions for credits include murder and first-degree manslaughter, including multiple subsections; first-degree aggravated sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault of a minor; home invasion; or being a persistent dangerous felony or sexual offender.

Suzio sought a broader expansion that would have included a series of violent offenses, as well as some statutes related to the sale of drugs.

The list was whittled down to four, but Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, raised concerns about including first-degree assault. The statute includes the use of a deadly weapon with the intent to cause serious bodily harm or that could result in death, but Winfield questioned how that would be determined.

Winfield expressed concern that someone who spontaneously grabs an item while in a fight could be excluded from the program just like someone who purposely brought a weapon.

Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, a committee co-chairman, said police may lodge the charge initially in both situations, but he expects prosecutors would take the ineligibility into consideration, along with the facts of the case, when trying to negotiate a plea agreement with a defendant.

Winfield ultimately voted for the bill, saying he wanted to continue working on it, but expressed opposition to it as written.

The bill would also require DOC to adopt formal regulations for how the program operates. Currently, DOC Commissioner Scott Semple has no such structure in place.

Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, credited Semple with improving the program to address concerns raised by lawmakers, but said nothing exists to ensure those improvements continue when he leaves.

“I think he’s got some very good ideas on how to deal with prison population,” Fasano said. The bill was also co-sponsored by Rep. Robert Sampson, R-Wolcott.