So what? What’s new?
Some people, particularly State Sen. Leonard F. Suzio, R-Meriden, are outraged that the suspect in Ghazal’s murder is a former convict whose sentence for a previous armed robbery was reduced by more than six months through a new policy allowing early release for good behavior in prison. (The suspect’s conduct in prison was actually fairly troublesome.) People imprisoned for violent crimes, Suzio and others complain, should not be able to earn reductions in their sentences.
Maybe not, but if the suspect in the Meriden murder is guilty and is the same dangerous thug he was when he first went to prison, it’s hard to see how his release six months early is the problem here. Even if he had been held a little longer, would he have behaved any differently once released?
The data Connecticut long has had about the return to criminality of released convicts suggests not. About 70% are convicted of a new crime within five years of their release, about half of them returning to prison. Of course many other released prisoners likely commit serious crimes for which they are not caught. Most serious crimes, including murder, are committed by people who already have accumulated long criminal records. Few criminals start with murder. It is common in Connecticut for criminals to accumulate a dozen convictions without ever receiving a long sentence.
According to state Victim Advocate Michelle Cruz, about 10% of the 7,589 prisoners whose sentences were reduced under the early release program since last September have already been returned to prison, and others have been charged again but released pending trial. Awful as this sounds, it implies that the recidivism of convicts in the early release program — about 10 percent per year — is no worse than the recidivism of convicts generally.
So despite all the supposed safeguards built around the parole of convicts since the murder of the Petit family in Cheshire in 2007 by two recently released career criminals, Connecticut can do no more than pretend to protect the public against ex-cons.
There are two reasons for this. First is that long sentences — like the sentence of the Meriden murder suspect for his armed robbery in 2006, 13 years suspended after six — are seldom imposed unless a judge has concluded that the perpetrator already has become incorrigible. The second reason is that prison usually only worsens a sick psyche, making a prisoner even more anti-social and practically unemployable upon his release except for the most menial labor.
That is, prison does not rehabilitate the incorrigible; it tends to make them worse — and there’s no way around it. For criminals become what they are long before they get to prison. The most horrible cases of recidivism suggest that protecting society requires not releasing any chronic or serious offender ever.
Saving money in criminal justice, replacing prison cells with parole supervision, is the objective of the early release program, its presumption being that Connecticut can’t afford so much imprisonment. But the program’s accounting does not include the harm done by released convicts who return to crime. Now the program is distracting from the policy discussion Connecticut needs.
Essentially permanent imprisonment of the incorrigibles who do so much damage might be perfectly affordable if, for example, Connecticut acknowledged the failure of its drug prohibition, which is estimated to be involved in three-quarters of all imprisonments.
Until Connecticut can protect people against armed robberies and worse by incorrigibles who never should have been released, by what right is the state presuming to try to protect druggies against themselves? Why not just let them shoot themselves up as long as they don’t shoot others to get money to pay the drug prohibition premium?
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.