Panel urged to trim prison sen­tences to curb de­po­ra­tions

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Jack Kramer

In an ef­fort to stem de­por­ta­tions, im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates and Yale Law School stu­dents urged an in­de­pen­dent state crim­i­nal jus­tice agency to rec­om­mend re­duc­ing mis­de­meanor sen­tences from 365 to 364 days.

That one day would give fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion judges more dis­cre­tion in de­por­ta­tion hear­ings, the Sen­tenc­ing Com­mis­sion was told Thurs­day.

The one-day re­duc­tion in sen­tenc­ing, rec­om­mended by the com­mis­sion last year, made it through the Leg­is­la­ture’s Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, but not through the full Gen­eral Assem­bly.

On Thurs­day, it was one of eight is­sues the Sen­tenc­ing Com­mis­sion could again con­sider rec­om­mend­ing to the Gen­eral Assem­bly and Gov.-elect Ned La­mont next year.

Ad­vo­cates told the com­mis­sion that shav­ing one day off the mis­de­meanor sen­tences would lower the chance that im­mi­grants con­victed of lower level crimes, such as pass­ing a bad check or mi­nor lar­ceny charges, would face in­ter­ac­tion with United States Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, or ICE, agents. A one-year mis­de­meanor sen­tence in Con­necti­cut is clas­si­fied by fed­eral au­thor­i­ties as an “ag­gra­vated felony” and can mean de­por­ta­tion.

Sa­man­tha Smith, a law stu­dent in­tern at the Yale Law School, told the com­mis­sion, “This mod­est change would have a big im­pact on Con­necti­cut’s im­mi­grant com­mu­nity.”

Smith said sev­eral other states have rec­og­nized the law is un­just and have adopted the 364-day rule. She cited Cal­i­for­nia, Ne­vada, Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon as states that have made the change.

“This re­form would sim­plify the plea bar­gain­ing process,” Smith told the

com­mis­sion. “This bill also strength­ens state sovereignty. We urge you to help Con­necti­cut join other states in mak­ing this mod­est but mean­ing­ful change.”

Ja­son Ramos, su­per­vi­sor of the mi­grant care plan for the Con­sulate of Ecuador, lo­cated in New Haven, urged the com­mis­sion to again sup­port the one-day change in the law.

“The scale of this is huge,” Ramos said. He said the mis­de­meanor ar­rests that trig­gered the events are gen­er­ally mi­nor crimes.

“Peo­ple com­mit mis­takes — as we all do,” Ramos said. The law the way it is cur­rently en­forced “dis­pro­por­tion­ately tar­gets” im­mi­grants, he said. “When some­one is sen­tenced they are now be­ing tar­geted by ICE.”

Ramos went on: They are try­ing to live their lives. They feel re­gret­ful (for their crime) and do bet­ter. They want to do bet­ter but they are kid­napped on their way to work, tar­geted.”

“This very mod­est change can have a huge ef­fect on the state, too,” Ramos said. “This is a ben­e­fit to the whole com­mu­nity,” stat­ing when ICE takes a fam­ily’s bread­win­ner away it cre­ates prob­lems for the fam­ily left be­hind which even­tu­ally be­come prob­lems that the state has to take over.

By adopt­ing the 364-day rule Con­necti­cut, Ramos said, would be a “truly pro­gres­sive state.”

Push­ing the com­mis­sion to again adopt the “364-day” ini­tia­tive was Alok Bhatt, of the Con­necti­cut Im­mi­grant Rights Al­liance.

“Con­necti­cut should be com­plicit in this level of pun­ish­ment on the fed­eral level,” Bhatt told the com­mit­tee. He said chang­ing

the law would have an im­pact on “black and brown com­mu­ni­ties and com­mu­ni­ties of color.”

He urged the com­mis­sion to “at least take this ini­tial step to­wards build­ing these pro­tec­tions in our com­mu­ni­ties to make Con­necti­cut a safe place.”

Last year when the is­sue came in front of the Sen­tenc­ing Com­mis­sion, it led to a lengthy dis­cus­sion among mem­bers as to whether it was the com­mis­sion’s role to change the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the state of Con­necti­cut and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

But those con­cerns were out­weighed by mem­bers of the com­mis­sion who ar­gued it was not only their right but their re­spon­si­bil­ity to make such rec­om­men­da­tions.

The com­mis­sion is con­sid­er­ing ex­pand­ing vot­ing rights to con­victed felons on pa­role and study­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of fa­cil­i­tat­ing vot­ing “by el­i­gi­ble per­sons who are in­car­cer­ated.”

Last year, the House de­bated and tabled a bill that would re­store vot­ing rights to parolees who are serv­ing their sen­tences. The is­sue is likely to come up again this year with or with­out a rec­om­men­da­tion from the com­mis­sion.

In ad­di­tion, the com­mis­sion is look­ing at mov­ing Con­necti­cut from a con­vic­tion-based sex of­fender reg­istry to a risk-based reg­istry fo­cused on the risk.

Con­necti­cut is one of the few states that does not al­low an in­di­vid­ual an op­por­tu­nity to be re­moved from its sex of­fender reg­istry. The com­mis­sion is propos­ing hav­ing all sex of­fend­ers reg­is­ter, but the length of time on the reg­istry would be re­duced based on whether they meet cer­tain re­quire­ments.

The com­mis­sion’s plans to meet at 2 p.m., Dec. 19.

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