by Chris Powell
Connecticut is full of repeat criminal offenders. It is unusual to find any serious crime in the state whose perpetrator didn’t already have a substantial record.
State government’s most recent report on recidivism found that 43% of people released from prison in the state were convicted and imprisoned again within three years. The more extensive a criminal’s record, the more likely he would be convicted and returned to prison within three years — a recidivism rate of 60% for the most serious offenders.
Bad as they are, the most recent recidivism rates are actually slight improvements over the rates of previous years, probably reflecting reduced opportunities for crime during the recent virus epidemic.
So it should be obvious to police, prosecutors, judges, parole and probation officers, and even to state legislators and governors that the most urgent work of criminal justice is to put repeat offenders away for good. Sad as it is, some people are so damaged that they can’t be rehabilitated.
But as was suggested by one of last weekend’s three murders in Hartford, all this is not obvious to most people in authority in the state.
According to news reports, a man charged in one of those murders had been charged with assault and carrying a gun without a permit in connection with another murder two years ago, and 10 other criminal and motor vehicle charges are pending against him as well. Somehow he has managed to post $800,000 in bonds in those cases and has remained free for two years, supposedly under strict supervision.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin was angry enough about this that he called a press conference to denounce the “systemic failures” of the court system in not resolving the many charges against the murder defendant. The mayor repeated the call he made in February with other city mayors at the state Capitol for more vigorous prosecution of repeat gun offenders. In May the state Office of Legislative Research reported that two-thirds of gun charges brought in Connecticut between 2013 and 2022 had been dropped, usually in plea bargaining achieving convictions on other charges.
That is, despite all the political blather against guns, Connecticut really doesn’t take gun crime very seriously.
The backlog in criminal cases in the state’s courts is attributed to the suspension of much court business during the epidemic. But in shutting down so much state business Governor Lamont and court officials should have anticipated the risk they were creating. “Essential” state services continued, but putting repeat offenders away was not essential — and still isn’t.
The epidemic has been over for many months and government operations are back to normal, and yet state government and municipal governments continue to spend tens of millions of dollars in “emergency” federal money on all sorts of goodies that have nothing to do with recovering from the epidemic — and nothing to do with eliminating the criminal case backlog.
Connecticut well might use 20 more courts working exclusively on the criminal backlog and gun violations particularly so that no gun violation has to be plea-bargained away. If the governor and state legislators ever took seriously their own rhetoric about gun violence, they would enact a law making gun crime as serious as murder and require a life sentence without parole for any gun crime. They also would enact an incorrigibility law requiring life sentences for repeat felony offenders.
No criminal in Connecticut will ever be much deterred from using a gun to commit a crime when two-thirds of gun charges are dropped and when gun offenders can remain free on bond for years pending trial.
Instead the governor and leaders of the majority party in the General Assembly — Mayor Bronin’s party, by the way — boast of having reduced the state’s prison population when that reduction is largely a matter of leaving repeat offenders free to renew their predations.
Chris Powell has written about Connecticut government and politics for many years. (CPowell@cox.net)