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Conn. House bars early release for some criminals

By Stephen Singer
Associated Press / May 31, 2011

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HARTFORD, Conn.—The Connecticut House of Representatives on Tuesday approved legislation slamming the door on early release for criminals convicted of certain violent offenses. But minority Republicans said too many crimes would still make inmates eligible for early release.

The House approved the measure 90-56 and sent it to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose spokeswoman said he will sign it.

Legislation limiting which prisoners should be allowed to shorten their sentences by earning credits for good behavior was necessary after the House last week passed a bill that appeared to allow violent felons who are ineligible for parole to participate in the credit program. There also was confusion about whether the bill allowed inmates to earn credits simply for behaving in prison.

The Senate on Friday approved a measure clarifying who is eligible for early release.

The three-hour debate in the House touched on emotional issues of crime and punishment, violent offenses and a home invasion in Cheshire in 2007 in which a mother and her two daughters were killed, the father was beaten with a baseball bat and their house was set on fire.

Rep. Gerald Fox, the House chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the legislation ensures that good conduct alone will not qualify an inmate for early release.

"Simply sitting in a room and not bothering anyone alone is not sufficient," said Fox, a Stamford Democrat.

Inmates who have been convicted of murder, capital felony, felony murder, arson murder, aggravated sexual assault or home invasion will not be eligible for early release as they would be ineligible for parole, he said.

Republicans unsuccessfully tried to extend the list to include manslaughter with a firearm; assaulting an elderly or blind person or a pregnant woman when the attack results in the termination of the pregnancy; rape; sexually assaulting a minor and kidnapping with a firearm.

Rep. Lawrence Cafero, a Norwalk Republican and GOP House leader, mocked the Democrats' legislation excluding those who are convicted of sexually assaulting a minor from the ban on early release.

"Are you kidding?" he asked.

Rep. J. Brendan Sharkey, the House majority leader, said early release for certain criminals helps reduce repeat crime because it provides former inmates with job training, psychological counseling, alcohol treatment and other assistance. Giving prisoners a "small credit" for time served is an incentive that ultimately improves public safety, said Sharkey, D-Hamden.

GOP efforts to extend the list of crimes for which inmates are ineligible for early release would end the "whole notion of this credit program designed to make our community safer," he said.

"Rapists in jail are going to get out of jail," said Sharkey, D-Hamden. "They'll be sent back to our society. All the evidence is that when that rapist gets out of jail he will rape again unless he receives some kind of treatment for that condition."

"If this is soft on crime," he said, "I say baloney."

Rep. Chris Coutu, R-Norwich, said that although the Democrats included home invasion in their legislation, the 2007 killings in Cheshire, for which a paroled burglar has been convicted and sentenced to death and a second paroled burglar is awaiting trial, showed flaws in the state's judicial system.

"We witnessed an error," Coutu said. "It didn't provide the public safety we demanded as citizens of Connecticut."

Early release also has been a major issue recently in Rhode Island. There, a man who killed a 5-year-old boy in 1975 and kept his shellacked bones in his house for years has agreed to commit himself to a mental health facility following his early release from prison this summer, the state's top corrections official said Friday.

Michael Woodmansee, 52, is scheduled for release in September after serving 28 years of a 40-year sentence.

He's eligible for early release under Rhode Island's good-time law, which shaves time off the sentences of well-behaved inmates. His impending release has outraged some state residents, and his victim's father has threatened to kill him if he's released early.

Rhode Island lawmakers have proposed legislation that would no longer allow murderers, rapists and child molesters to get good-time credits toward early release. That bill has passed the state Senate and is pending in the House.