Last week there was an article in my local paper, Connecticut’s victim’s advocate continues to fight against governor’s early release program . This is the same program that my former State Senator, Andrew Roraback, cited as his reason for changing his long-held record of voting for the abolition of the death penalty.
Senator Roraback wanted this program done away with, and was willing to hold hostage his vote on the repeal of the death penalty. Because the vote to get rid of the program failed, he voted against repealing the death penalty. This was completely out of character, and the opposite of his votes against the death penalty in all previous sessions.
The Victim Advocate has also chosen to get involved in this issue. She is also opposed to this program, and I’m not sure her stance is right for her office.
And three Republican legislators started a petition last month to suspend the program.
My understanding of the program, the Earned Risk Reduction Program, is prisoners can earn time off their sentences (up to five days per month) by good behavior, and by participating in certain programs offered in the prisons, designed to prepare the prisoner for life outside the prison. Other states that have instituted similar plans have seen a reduction in their recidivism and crime rates. Isn’t a reduction in recidivism and crime rates a good thing?
Prisoners have been able to informally earn time off for good behavior for some time, as have they been able to earn time off for participating in programs designed to reduce recidivism. I think this program only formalizes an already-existing practice, and adds some helpful new programs.
These programs are specifically set up to help in an inmate’s re-entry into the world outside the prison. The programs include substance abuse counseling, mental health treatment, parenting classes, and a GED or skills in a particular trade. They give the offender tools that enable him or her to more successfully re-enter society. One of the goals of the correctional system is rehabilitation. These programs are a step toward that goal. Knowing that he or she can shorten the incarceration time gives the inmate an incentive to take part in the programs. They are motivated to take part in programs that are in the interest of society because the programs lower the risk of re-offending. Isn’t lower risk of re-offending a good thing?
As I said earlier, these programs have been available for some time. It seems that this new addition to the programs is much fairer in that it clearly states what the prisoner must do to earn a specific amount of time off his or her sentence.
Prisoners have always been able to get their sentences reduced, and those who hoot and holler about promises to the victims not being kept are being disingenuous. A sentence of a certain term is never a promise, and if it has ever been presented as a promise, shame on the person who made the promise. Parole hearings are held all the time, and prisoners can “earn” time off for good behavior. In addition, there are other “special circumstances” that enable the early release of certain prisoners. I know this from my experience. The man who murdered my mother was sentenced to 26 years to life. He served fewer than five years. He was released because of ill-health and went on to live for many more years. This all happened more than 20 years ago, before the program in question was instituted, back when a sentence was supposedly a promise.
We cannot make promises to victims about the length of time their offender will serve in prison, except for mandatory minimum sentences (? see my experience with mandatory minimum sentence, above). Any such promises are lies, and have always been lies. The length of the served sentence is up to the Department of Corrections. The DOC must follow the law, and do its best to prevent the prisoners it releases from re-offending. They work to rehabilitate the men and women in their care. That is their mission and the only promise that can be made about the length of a sentence. The new program is run and monitored by the Commissioner of Corrections and a Corrections Committee. They are in the best position to assess the inmate’s behavior so they are the ones to give incentives by way of credits, when they think they are warranted—as outlined in the program.
I think these three Republicans, Senator Roraback, and the Victim’s Advocate may all be mistaken about this program, and more importantly they may all be mistaken about the idea of a sentence handed down being a promise. It really is not a promise. It is possible that the program can be improved, but from what I can see of it, it is only formalizing already-existing practice. Isn’t clarity of responsibility and expectations a good thing? I think it is far better than making “promises” that cannot be kept.