Parole chairman under fire for commutations; GOP lawmakers push back

March 22, 2023

Waterbury Republican-American

The chairman of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles came under heavy criticism from Republican lawmakers Monday over the high number of commutations the board has approved in the past year.

Chairman Carleton J. Giles and nine other board members had their nominations reviewed by the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee.

Giles, appointed to the board as a full-time member in September 2013 and chairman in May 2014, earns an annual salary of $163,717.

A revised commutation policy prompted a deluge of requests from state inmates. The new policy states inmates must be serving more than 10 years and have served 10 years already, and they can’t be eligible for parole within the next two years of applying. There are a dozen suitability guidelines the board uses to make its decision. The parameters mean that out of the 6,165 inmates who have been sentenced and are in custody with the state Department of Correction, more than 1,000 are eligible to apply.

The board has approved commutations in 97 cases, most charged with murder or manslaughter, and denied more than a dozen.

Since the policy was revamped, the Board of Pardon and Parole screened 393 applications and denied 296 inmates from receiving a full hearing.

State Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, questioned the purpose of revamping the policy. Before 2021, the board had only granted a handful of commutations over the years.

“What happened in 2021 that caused you to wake one day (and say), ‘One commutation is too little. We’re going to do dozens and dozens?’” Kissel asked.

Giles said the board has been looking at several policies over the years and commutations happened to be one of many that was revamped.

Legislators disagreed on whether the shift in commutations needed approval from legislators.

Giles said the board didn’t need legislative approval because state statutes permit the board to make its own policies.

“I know you feel that you’re acting in simpatico with the legislature, but not with this legislator. I wish it had been bounced off us before it was implemented,” Kissel said.

State Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, said he sees the changes made as a regulation, which would have fallen under the legislature’s purview. Fishbein said the board sidestepped the legislature’s Regulations Review Committee oversight.

State Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said state statutes give the board the authority to implement the commutation policy.

“It’s crystal clear in the statute,” he said.