Connecticut’s criminal-justice reform package of 2008, enacted six months after the home invasion and murders of three members of the Petit family in Cheshire, was designed to overhaul a court, prison, and parole system that on some levels hadn’t progressed beyond the 1980s, says the Hartford Courant. It was to be the legacy of a crime that brought a state to its knees because the accused killers were chronic offenders and creatures of the system. Nearly three years later, the full potential of the crime bills has yet to be realized. From the tough talk that surrounded the bills, an expectation emerged that the reforms would be shielded from major budget cuts. That hasn’t happened. Because of Connecticut’s budget deficit, millions of dollars have been cut or deferred from the bills since 2009.
The laws did trigger major improvements in the criminal-justice system, particularly in the areas of probation and parole. New laws that target home-invasion burglaries and robberies have been used by prosecutors to win long prison terms for offenders. Several major pieces of the bill – a statewide criminal information-sharing system; halfway-house beds that free up prison cells for violent offenders; the addition of six new prosecutors to focus on repeat offenders – have been delayed. The reforms called for a commitment of $27.4 million a year. In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, $41.7 million was actually spent. That means a total of $13.1 million, or 24 percent of the allocation, was steered away from the reform programs over those two years. Among the casualties of funding reductions are 60 of 135 halfway-house beds intended for offenders with drug and mental-health problems. Gov.-elect Dan Malloy said he would see to it that the programs created by the crime bills of 2008 are fully funded. State Rep. Michael Lawlor, co-chairman of the legislature’s judiciary committee, faulted the administration of Gov. M. Jodi Rell for not doing more to protect the crime bills from the budget axe. “This should have been a discrete, separate, specialized undertaking – but it hasn’t been, and there’s a lot of frustration out there,” said Lawlor.