Sen. Somers presses for “the change victims have been asking for.”

April 21, 2023

Commutations of long prison sentences in CT put on hold as board reviews policy

Alex Putterman



Commutations of long prison sentences in Connecticut have been placed on hold following a backlash that led to a change in leadership at the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

“We are currently in the process of updating the commutation policy,” reads a notice on the Board of Pardons and Paroles website, “and will resume accepting applications and scheduling hearings within the next few months.”

Richard Sparaco, the board’s executive director, said pausing commutations was among the first orders of new chairperson Jennifer Medina Zaccagnini, who was appointed by Gov. Ned Lamont earlier this month.

“We wanted to take that policy, put a pause on it and revisit it,” Sparaco said. “The hope is to get commutations back up and online in a reasonable period of time.”

Supporters of commutations see them as second chances for people who have changed over decades in prison and argue that they correct for overly punitive sentences doled out during the “tough-on-crime” era of the 1990s. Opponents see them as unfair to victims and their families.

Commutations have emerged as a contentious political issue in recent months, with Republican lawmakers and victims rights advocates decrying a rise in the release of people serving decades-long sentence, often for murder and other serious offenses. After granting only three total commutations from 2017 through 2021, the Board of Pardons and Paroles granted 71 in 2022 and 25 more in the first two months of 2023.

In response to concerns about commutations, Lamont, a Democrat, called for a pause on the process and removed Carleton Giles as Board of Pardons and Paroles chairperson, replacing him with Zaccagnini.

In a statement Thursday, a Lamont spokesperson said the governor’s office had met this week with the the Board of Pardons and Paroles, as “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.”

Sparaco emphasized that the board would not halt commutations altogether but would review aspects of its policy that drew criticism, including protocols for notifying victims and a rule allowing people denied commutation to reapply after three years.

Currently, incarcerated people are eligible for commutation when they have been in prison for 10 years or more and are more than two years away from a chance at parole.

In a statement Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, called the pause in commutations “a positive step,” while Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said she was “optimistic that this pause will result in the change victims have been asking for.”

“National Crime Victims’ Week starts on Sunday,” Somers 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.”