Trump, Mal­loy and strange bed­fel­lows of re­form

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - NEWS - By Mark Pazniokas CTMIRROR.ORG

Was it more sur­pris­ing that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump lis­tened to rap­per Kanye West’s stream-of-con­scious­ness mus­ings in the Oval Of­fice on Thurs­day or that the pres­i­dent sounded a lit­tle like Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy while talk­ing about crim­i­nal-jus­tice re­form on “Fox & Friends?”

Be­fore West ar­rived for lunch, Trump in­di­cated on Fox that he was em­brac­ing the FIRST STEP Act, a bill that in­cludes a pro­vi­sion giv­ing fed­eral pris­on­ers credit for pos­i­tive be­hav­ior be­hind bars — sim­i­lar to Mal­loy’s risk-re­duc­tion cred­its in Con­necti­cut.

“There has to be a re­form, be­cause it’s very un­fair right now,” Trump said. “It’s very un­fair to African Amer­i­cans. It’s very un­fair to ev­ery­body. And it’s also very costly.”

Mal­loy, a Demo­crat whose crim­i­nal jus­tice and pri­son re­forms have at­tracted na­tional at­ten­tion, was not will­ing Fri­day to con­clude that Trump is join­ing a po­lit­i­cally di­verse re­form move­ment that ranges from the ACLU to an in­sti­tute funded by con­ser­va­tive busi­ness­man Charles Koch.

“The pres­i­dent says a lot of things, and talk is cheap. He’s done ab­so­lutely noth­ing to fur­ther the dis­cus­sion or the ef­fort,” Mal­loy said in an in­ter­view. “Hav­ing said that, at least he’s not say­ing neg­a­tive things about it.”

Trump orig­i­nally stood with op­po­nents of the leg­is­la­tion, go­ing so far as to op­pose the Se­nate tak­ing up the mea­sure be­fore the mid-term elec­tions. A ver­sion al­ready has passed the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Se­nate sup­port­ers in­clude lead­ers on both sides of the aisle, in­clud­ing Sen. Charles Grass­ley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Grass­ley is chair­man of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee and Durbin is the Se­nate mi­nor­ity whip. Op­po­nents in­clude At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, whom Trump point­edly noted Thurs­day must fall in line on crim­i­nal jus­tice re­forms.

“If he doesn’t, then he gets over­ruled by me,” Trump said.

Grass­ley and Durbin also are spon­sors of the bi­par­ti­san Sen­tenc­ing Re­form and Cor­rec­tions Act, which would re­duce fed­eral manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tences for non­vi­o­lent crimes, echo­ing an ap­proach take by Con­necti­cut and other states.

In April, Grass­ley’s of­fice de­scribed the mea­sure as based on “state-level com­pre­hen­sive crim­i­nal jus­tice re­forms that have re­duced crime, in­car­cer­a­tion and the tax­payer bur­den in states across the coun­try.”

Mal­loy won bi­par­ti­san pas­sage in 2015 of a “Sec­ond Chance So­ci­ety” bill that elim­i­nated pri­son as a pun­ish­ment for many drug pos­ses­sion crimes, a step the gover­nor says ad­dresses the fis­cal and so­cial costs of in­car­cer­a­tion, a mis­sion sup­ported by fis­cal con­ser­va­tives and so­cial lib­er­als.

Non­par­ti­san leg­isla­tive an­a­lysts pre­dicted that a pro­vi­sion re­clas­si­fy­ing most drug-pos­ses­sion crimes as mis­de­meanors would mean 1,120 fewer in­mates. In 2016, the ac­tual num­ber turned out to be 1,130.

Two of the can­di­dates try­ing to suc­ceed Mal­loy, Demo­crat Ned La­mont and pe­ti­tion­ing can­di­date Oz Griebel, said dur­ing a re­cent de­bate they would con­tinue Mal­loy’s re­form ef­forts. Repub­li­can Bob Ste­fanowski did not.

“I don’t think he has a com­pre­hen­sive un­der­stand­ing of the in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness of gov­ern­men­tal ex­penses and re­sults,” Mal­loy said.

One of the Mal­loy ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pri­son re­forms, the Risk Re­duc­tion Earned Credit au­tho­rized by the Gen­eral As­sem­bly in 2011, has been con­demned by some Repub­li­cans, mostly re­cently by Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meri­den, dur­ing a news con­fer­ence 10 days ago.

As is the case with the fed­eral FIRST STEP leg­is­la­tion, the Con­necti­cut pro­gram al­lows most in­mates — those convicted of cer­tain vi­o­lent crimes are in­el­i­gi­ble — to shave time off their sen­tences. In Con­necti­cut, in­mates can earn up to five days a month as a re­ward for good be­hav­ior.

Con­necti­cut did of­fer good-time cred­its from at least 1862 un­til 1993, when the Leg­is­la­ture passed a law re­quir­ing of­fend­ers to serve their full sen­tences in pri­son or un­der the su­per­vi­sion of the Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tion in a com­mu­nity-based pro­gram. The risk-re­duc­tion pro­gram cre­ated in 2011 has been mod­i­fied sev­eral times through leg­is­la­tion and at the di­rec­tion of Cor­rec­tion Com­mis­sioner Scott Sem­ple.

In­mates are cat­e­go­rized based on a five-level scale of risk as­sess­ments such as a his­tory of vi­o­lence, dis­ci­pline, and other fac­tors, with level five rep­re­sent­ing the high­est risk. Based on their risk level, of­fend­ers can earn up to three, four, or five days a month. In­mates as­sessed at level five are in­el­i­gi­ble.

Suzio, the Repub­li­can critic in the state Se­nate, said ev­ery in­mate should serve 100 per­cent of their sen­tence, re­gard­less of whether the pres­i­dent em­braces early re­lease.

“My op­po­si­tion to the early re­lease pro­gram is not based on a be­lief we shouldn’t make an ef­fort to re­form crim­i­nal be­hav­ior,” Suzio said Fri­day. “What I do op­pose is us­ing early dis­charge as an in­cen­tive.”

Suzio points to any crime com­mit­ted by an in­mate be­fore serv­ing 100 per­cent of his time as ev­i­dence of a fail­ure.

Mal­loy points to re­search that in­di­cates in­mates are less likely to com­mit new crimes if they are in­cen­tivized in pri­son to fur­ther their ed­u­ca­tion or train for jobs. Na­tion­ally, Mal­loy said, such ap­proaches are not par­ti­san.

“So it’s in­ter­est­ing that Repub­li­cans in Con­necti­cut refuse to ac­cept that crime is lower, refuse to ac­cept that re­cidi­vism is lower, refuse to ac­cept that vi­o­lent crime has dropped more in Con­necti­cut than just about any other state in the na­tion, and cry when some­one who comes out of pri­son com­mits a crime,” Mal­loy said. “Peo­ple are go­ing to fall back into bad be­hav­iors. The ques­tion is not whether any­one does that. It’s whether fewer peo­ple do that, and what we’ve es­tab­lished in Con­necti­cut is far fewer peo­ple are do­ing that.”

The leg­is­la­tion be­fore the Se­nate is rel­a­tively mod­est. It would raise the cap on the good-time cred­its in­mates could earn from 47 days to 54 days.

Trump’s over­all ap­proach to re­form has been ad hoc at times, fo­cus­ing on spe­cific cases rather than sys­temic changes. At the urg­ing of West’s wife, Kim Kar­dashian West, the pres­i­dent signed an or­der in June com­mut­ing the sen­tence of Alice Marie John­son, a 63-year-old woman serv­ing life in pri­son for a non­vi­o­lent drug con­vic­tion.

Mal­loy and oth­ers say a more dra­matic ap­proach by Trump would be to sup­port sen­tenc­ing re­forms, ei­ther by leg­is­la­tion or pol­icy. Trump has not stopped Ses­sions from in­sist­ing that fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors pur­sue the tough­est pos­si­ble charges and sen­tences against crim­i­nal de­fen­dants, re­vers­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ef­forts to ease penal­ties in non­vi­o­lent drug cases.

Trump needs to com­mit and fol­low through, not just have an photo op­por­tu­nity with Kanye West, Mal­loy said.

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