Judiciary Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-7133

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING GOOD TIME CREDITS.

Vote Date:

4/4/2017

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable

PH Date:

3/20/2017

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

House Republican Leader Representative Themis Klarides, 114th District

REASONS FOR BILL:

Motivated in part by the early release of a convicted murderer, the bill seeks to eliminate the ability for prisoners sentenced prior to the legislature's abolishment of good time credits in 1994 from continuing to collect such credits. The bill seeks to close this loophole that has allowed some prisoners to be released early from prison.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Office of the Victim Advocate-Natasha M. Pierre, State Victim Advocate

Pierre notes that although her office received hundreds of calls after the Earned Risk Reduction Credit (EERC) program was implemented in 2011, Pierre's office believes that this bill will help improve the accountability of the program and ensure that only those inmates actually deserving of credit are awarded such credit. In particular, Pierre's office believes that all eligible inmates, regardless of when they were convicted and sentenced, should be awarded or denied credits in the same manner. As Connecticut has already decided to adopt a new EERC program, this bill will help ensure such uniformity is met.

Office of Chief Public Defender-Susan O. Storey, Chief Public Defender

The OCPD expresses the same concerns regarding the ex post facto implications of this bill as explained by the CCDLA (see below). The OCPD also wished to clarify the reasons for the sentence modification and release of David Weinberg in order to correct any misinformation it believes the public is relying on in support of this bill. First, it noted that good time credits had “absolutely nothing” to do with Weinberg's early release. Rather, Weinberg's release was based on a reinvestigation of his case by the Connecticut Innocence Project that revealed his conviction rested on false testimony, forensic tests results that have since been repudiated by the FBI, and the withholding of a confession from another person. The OCPD details the specific scientific and legal shortcomings of the evidence previously presented against Weinberg at trial. The OCPD highlights the necessity and success of the Connecticut Innocence Project which works to address wrongful convictions and incarcerations. It wishes to emphasize that Weinberg's conviction has been properly recognized as a “miscarriage of justice” and counsels against using it as the “emotional focus” to pass legislation otherwise aimed at abolishing good time credits.

Department of Correction-Scott Semple, Commissioner of Correction

Semple notes that the Department's Risk Reduction Earned Credits program is integral to the Department's ability to protect the public and make prisons safer for staff and inmates. Use of the program has resulted in less inmate fighting and assaults on staff have declined. Semple expresses concerns with this bill's effect on the Department's ability to successfully return inmates to Connecticut's cities and towns. Specifically, elimination of earned time credits would severely limit the Department's ability to get inmates into needed programming and provide incentives for good behavior. Semple also notes that Connecticut's current earned credit system is one of the least generous in the nation and has severe penalties for those who do not follow the rules.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Rep. Themis Klarides, 114th District

Rep. Klarides proposed this legislation after learning that David Weinberg (Weinberg), the convicted murderer in the 1984 killing of nineteen year-old Joyce Stochmal (Stochmal), was released early from prison through a sentence modification. Weinberg had earned 3,686 days of good credit which the court took into account in calculating the amount of time he had served in his 60-year sentence. She was concerned that the court included this time to conclude that Weinberg had served almost 40 years of his sentence, which was two-thirds of the total sentence. Rep. Klarides does not believe prisoners should get credit merely for doing things they are supposed to do; rather, prisoners should credit by engaging in proactive measures, such as educational programs, not just because they did not do anything wrong. She also clarified the circumstances regarding Weinberg's release from prison, specifically, that the state prosecutor and Connecticut Innocence Project negotiated a deal for his release, which included incorporating the good time earned credits. Rep. Klarides explains the goal of this bill is not to erase any credits that have been earned to date, but to prohibit inmates from collecting credits going forward. Rep. Klarides notes that it is important to be aware of the impact that early release of inmates has on victims and their families.

Rep. Nicole Klarides-Ditria, 105th District

Rep. Klarides-Ditria believes that inmates should no longer be collecting credits for good time under a program that essentially no longer exists, as the legislature abolished the program in 1993. She believes that the good time earned program subverts the justice system by “delegitimizing” the sentences that judges have imposed. Rep. Klarides-Ditria believes the state and its criminal justice system will benefit from this measure as it will create uniformity and eliminate significant bureaucracy.

Joe Stochmal, Seymour

Joe is Stochmal's brother and sought to represent his family and their friends in their continuing grief and pain from the recent release of Weinberg. Joe believes that dangerous criminals should not be rewarded for simply “getting through” their days behind bars. He rhetorically asks the legislature to consider whether they would be comfortable knowing their children or grandchildren may somehow end up in the path of a convicted criminal who was released early from prison. He also believes that while this bill is a good first step in necessary criminal justice reform, more is needed. Specifically, Joe noted that the state failed to notify his family when Weinberg filed his first habeas petition in 1997, thereby precluding the family from representing their interests in that matter. Joe believes the legislature should pay more careful attention to the needs and rights of victims and their families. Joe also explained the circumstances regarding Weinberg's first habeas petition and the evidence at issue that led to the release of Weinberg; specifically a confession, a Brady violation, fingernail evidence, fiber evidence, and the murder weapon. Moreover, Joe stated that the state prosecutor had informed him that even if the case were to be re-tried and a new conviction obtained, a judge would still release Weinberg early from prison due to his good time earned. Weinberg's actual 26 years served, coupled with his 12 years of good time earned, equated to two-thirds of his total sentence as he was elderly, a judge would find this was “enough” time served and release him.

Stephen Pesta, Meriden

Pesta, Joyce Stochmal's cousin, believes a convicted murderer in Connecticut should never be allowed to walk freely among a victim's family members and that legislators should pass this bill to avoid doing damage to victims and their families. Pesta believes the vicious crime committed on his cousin was an “unforgettable and unforgivable offense” that no good behavior in prison should ever be able to absolve.

Betty Marotti

Marotti notes that her family suffered immensely when the man that sexually assaulted her daughters was released early from prison. Marotti believes that inmates should have no rights when victims suffer and that the early release program should be abolished.

Herbert P. Linn, Milford

Linn is seeking justice for the Stochmal family. Linn was incredulous when he learned that the Connecticut Innocence Project secured the early release of Weinberg. He does not believe “serious” criminals should be allowed to obtain good time credits when they do not do anything productive in jail to demonstrate they are good people. Linn believes this measure, while unable to save Stochmal, will spare his community from the premature release of another dangerous killer.

Caroline J. Dennis, Milford

Dennis is seeking justice for the Stochmal family. Dennis understands that part of the reason that Weinberg was released from jail was because he earned good time credits, which were allowed because he committed a crime before 1993. The fact that this loophole exists in the law invites the opportunity for more “homicidal psychopaths” to reenter society before completing their prison sentences. This bill will prevent other dangerous killers from being released early.

Jenna Pacitto

Pacitto stands with Stochmal family and believes this legislation is necessary to prevent the possible early release of convicted felons and to ensure public safety.

Group of Citizens' Signatures

A group of citizens expresses their support for the bill because it is unacceptable that good time credits allowed Weinberg to be released early from his life sentence and become a free man.

Janine T. Clark & Family

Clark writes to express her concern that Weinberg is now able to walk free after murdering Stochmal. Clark believes that good time credit should not be given but earned through something more than just “good behavior.” Moreover, she does not believe violent offenders should be eligible at all for good credit. Passing this bill will prevent “another 'David Weinberg'” from walking free and possibly impacting the safety of the public and putting another family through the same horror the Stochmals experienced.

Mary Theriault, Southbury

Theriault believes this bill is imperative to ensure that Connecticut residents remain safe from potential convicted killers that may be granted early release. She does not approve of the fact that Weinberg was released early from prison due to good time credits.

Kim Carpenter, Shelton

Carpenter expresses her incredulity that Weinberg was released from prison early after murdering Stochmal. She does not believe that Connecticut should release convicted murders from prison merely because they had “good time” while serving their sentences.

Sharon Schwab, Trumbull

Schwab questions the impact that releasing convicted criminals early has on victims and the community where the crime was committed. Schwab asks the legislature to eliminate the ability for anyone to be released early from prison to avoid a miscarriage of justice and protect families from the pain that the Stochmal family has experienced for 33 years.

Karen Chudoba Kachoulas

Kachoulas believes any Connecticut community should not have to live in “grave concern and literal fear” from the possibility that a convicted murderer may be able to walk freely among them. She believes that a criminal cannot earn good time when he committed a heinous act against human life. She believes this bill will protect victims' rights and will save lives.

Barbara J. Granton, Southbury

Granton stands with the Stochmal family by expressing her astonishment that a convicted murderer was released early from prison. A classmate and a friend of Stochmal, Granton believes this bill is essential to ensure public safety.

Robin Bouton, Seymour; Elizabeth A. Steffero, Bethlehem; William D. Violano, Jr., Bethlehem

These citizens support the bill as a means to ensure public safety and prevent the possible future early release of convicted felons. They believe that the Stochmal family was “victimized again” when Weinberg was released, and that he is now free to go anywhere he likes, completely unmonitored. Furthermore, they do not believe that criminals have proven early release is a benefit they truly deserve.

Beth Willadsen, South Windsor; Marie Willadsen-Pacitto

These citizens stand with the Stochmal family in demanding reform and believe this law is essential to ensure public safety. They believe no other family should suffer like the Stochmals have and that the Stochmals continue to relive their pain because Weinberg was released early.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association-Vicki Hutchinson, Esq. and Tejas Bhatt, Esq., Executive Board Members

The CCDLA opposes the bill because it violates the constitutional prohibition against ex-post facto laws. The Connecticut Supreme Court held in Johnson v. Commissioner that the ex-post facto clause forbids the imposition of a more severe punishment than the one at law at the time the act was committed. Likewise, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that retroactive alteration of parole or early release implicates the ex-post facto clause because such factors effectively alter an inmate's sentence. The bill also undermines the original purpose of Conn. Gen. Stat. 18-7a, which was to rehabilitate inmates by encouraging participation in work and educational programs. Eliminating good credit time will reduce the incentive to attend these programs thereby precluding the goal of rehabilitation in our prison system.

Connecticut for One Standard of Justice-Cindy Prizio, Executive Director

CTOSJ opposes the bill because it believes that earned credits will help Connecticut continue its goal of reducing its prison population. CTOSJ believes that people can and do change, and should have the opportunity to do so through the use of a good time credit program. Moreover, the bill supports fiscal responsibility in the state as Connecticut spends a significant amount of money on incarceration without any corresponding return on investment. While CTOSJ does wish to achieve a victimless society, it believes that bills should be passed based on empirical evidence “rather than fear and hysteria.”

American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut-David McGuire, Executive Director

The ACLU believes that eliminating or reducing the risk reduction credit program will make Connecticut less safe, contribute to costly prison overcrowding, and make Connecticut's prisons more dangerous. Removal of this program will create a disincentive for offenders to behave appropriately and participate in prison programs. Studies have demonstrated that in addition to lowering the cost of incarceration, risk reduction programs improve offender success in re-entry because it encourages inmates to participate in programs that help them with this re-entry. The ACLU notes that the National Conference of State Legislatures report showed that states with accelerated release found no significant increase in recidivism rates, and in fact some studies have found a decrease in these rates. The ACLU notes that earned credit programs also help to lower the fiscal burden on Connecticut's citizens who finance the prison system. Furthermore, Connecticut has made significant progress in reducing its prison population significantly since 2008 due in part to earned credits, and elimination of this program will reverse this downward trend and open the state to costly prison overcrowding litigation. Lastly, as correction commissioners testified before the committee, the earned credit program has made prison environments safer for both offenders and correction officers.

Reported by: Allison Ercolano

Date: April 26, 2017