Commutations halted; Sen. Kelly: “This is a positive step.”

April 21, 2023

Controversial commutations halted by CT parole board after outcry over decades cut from murderers’ sentences

Hartford Courant

Following a public outcry, the state Board of Pardons and Paroles has temporarily halted reductions in prison sentences for violent criminals.

The board halted the commutations after embattled chairman Carleton J. Giles of Milford was ousted by Gov. Ned Lamont and replaced by a new chairwoman, Jennifer Zaccagnini.

Giles and two other board members had sparked a public outcry when 71 prisoners had their sentences reduced last year, including 44 convicted of murder.

The issue came to a head recently when Lamont allowed Giles to remain on the board, and the state Senate approved him for a new, four-year term by a 21-14 vote with two Democrats breaking with their party and voting against Giles.

On Thursday, Republicans hailed the halt in commutations.

“This is a positive step,” said Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly of Stratford. “The people deserve a government that works for them – a government that makes sure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is protected.

“They deserve accountability. It took press conferences for us to get the word out that in this situation, the people of Connecticut’s voices were not being heard.,” he said.

Kelly described Giles as “an unelected bureaucrat” who made the moves without the knowledge of many legislators. Democrats, however, said that Giles had been operating under state law because the legislature had granted authority to the parole board to set its own rules and regulations.

Amidst the controversy, Lamont intervened to install the new chairwoman and called for a bipartisan meeting with all sides to discuss the next steps because he lacks the power to make unilateral changes under the law.

That meeting was held Wednesday with Republican and Democratic leaders of the judiciary committee, along with representatives of corrections, victims services, parole board and governor’s staff, among others.

Lamont’s chief spokesman, Adam Joseph, said the meeting was “the start of a collaborative process in which the leadership of the board committed itself to working with leadership of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee to consider revisions to its policies, including input from all stakeholders.”

State Sen. Heather Somers, a Groton Republican who has been outspoken on the issue, said, “We continue to push for an open and transparent process where every victim, lawmaker, prosecutor and defense attorney has input on how this commutations policy should be revised. We need to decide collectively what that policy is — what is fair, what is just, and what is right.”

On the Senate floor recently, Democrats defended Giles as they voted in favor of him remaining on the board.

Majority leader Bob Duff, a Norwalk Democrat, said, “I believe that Carleton Giles is a good man with a good heart.” He added that the parole board is not “a rubber stamp.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat who is the highest-ranking senator, said there has been “a rethinking, a reexamination” of sentencing in recent years as some prisoners received long sentences in the 1990s and are still in prison now.

The issue is not over.

Giles must still be approved by the state House of Representatives, which could vote as early as April 27 as both chambers of the legislature need to approve the parole board nominees.