A public exchange of letters about Connecticut prison crowding is part of a nuanced campaign to frame the crime debate in the legislative session and re-election races in 2008, reports the Hartford Courant. Rep. Michael Lawlor (D), co-chairman of the judiciary committee, warned Gov. M. Jodi Rell that the prisons are “nearing a crisis stage due to the recent surge in inmate population.” Lawlor has tried to counter calls for sweeping changes to the criminal justice system, saying that “getting tough” in the wake of the Cheshire slayings is more complicated than imposing tougher sentences. The prison population has jumped by 461 inmates since Rell temporarily suspended additional paroles of violent offenders less than a month ago.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr. (R) wrote Lawlor that the high-ranking Democrat shares responsibility for the current state of the criminal justice and prison systems. In the Republican view, a string of Democratic legislatures crafted the legal structure that put two paroled burglars on the street to terrorize the Petit family in Cheshire. Democrats, who haven’t held the governor’s office since January 1991, can say Republican appointees oversaw the two Cheshire defendants as they were sentenced, imprisoned, and released. Lawlor said his goal is to produce sound public policy and neutralize crime as an issue that can be used against the Democratic majority. He cited Jessica’s Law, a statute on sex offenders, as a model.