Lost Savings from Inmate Early Releases?

A controversial Connecticut law designed to let some inmates out of prison early may not be delivering the savings promised by the legislature.

Two years ago, the state approved risk reduction earned credits for Department of Corrections inmates.

The goal was to keep violent offenders behind bars longer and reduce prison re-entry rates for those inmates who get out. Inmates who behave and participate in certain rehab programs can shave up to five days per month off their sentences.

The legislature assumed that risk reduction earned credits and other policy initiatives would help save the state $30 million in its 2011 to 2013 budget. However, a recent report from the Office of Fiscal Analysis claims the DOC is running a $23.1 million shortfall because it has not met budgeted savings.

"The savings weren't achieved. They were just totally bogus. Another gimmick in a phony budget to make it balanced in a phony way," said former state senator Len Suzio, a critic of the early release program.

Suzio represented Meriden, where in June 2012, convenience store owner Ibrahim Ghazal was shot to death in his store. A manhunt led to the arrest of Frankie "The Razor" Resto, who was released from prison on risk reduction credits two months earlier. Resto has yet to enter a plea. He is currently awaiting trial on a murder charge.

Ghazal's son, Fapyo, argues his father's murder could have been prevented.

"That's the justice? That's right? To save money, kill people? Destroy family?" Ghazal said.

According to the state, Resto served 91 percent of his sentence. The state said that's longer than what he could have served under the old laws.

"The release decisions are much more elaborate and they're identifying the very dangerous offenders. So there was a lot more Frankie Restos four or five years ago than there are today and going forward there'll be a lot fewer," said Mike Lawlor, the Governor's criminal justice advisor.

Lawlor said the prison population has dropped in recent years due to reduced crime.

"The purpose of the risk reduction credits were not to save money. The purpose of the risk reduction credits are to reduce crime," Lawlor said. "There are fewer people coming into prison doors. As a result, the prison population is down and we anticipate we'll continue to save money going forward because there will be less crime."

Regarding the $23.1 million deficiency, the DOC said anticipated savings from risk reduction earned credits and other initiatives were built into the budget proposed by the governor for the 2012 to 2013 biennium. The legislature approved a budget that further reduced the DOC's budget from that proposed by the governor.  As a result, the DOC's appropriation included numerous policy initiatives for programmed savings totaling $69.9 million.

The DOC said it was successful in achieving $46.8 million of the targeted savings. That left a budget deficit of $23.1 million in its Personal Services line item. In addition, the Personal Services account reflects a $20.9 million expenditure reduction when comparing FY 2013 to FY2012.

But critics don't buy it.

"We traded public safety for bogus savings that never happened," Suzio said.

Critics also argue that several violent crimes can be attributed to early release prisoners, including the murder of an East Hartford convenience store clerk last August and an alleged sexual assault in Vernon last October.

"I remember when we voted on it and I said it's gonna take a tragedy for this legislature to wake up and realize they made a big mistake," Suzio said.

Fapyo Ghazal said he'll also push for a change to the early release laws. Thoughts of his father are always on his mind.

"He's very awesome guy. He's still in my heart," Ghazal said.

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