HARTFORD - Gov. M. Jodi Rell's order to ban parole for violent offenders in Connecticut has prompted the state Department of Correction to impose new restrictions on residents in halfway houses.
The agency decided Saturday that the approximately 1,200 people who live in halfway houses will be allowed to leave only for work, treatment or religious services, said Brian Garnett, a spokesman for the Department of Correction.
Separately, two top state lawmakers on Sunday invited Rell to meet with the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee in an emergency session Oct. 1.
The committee's chairmen, Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, and Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, said lawmakers want to coordinate efforts by Rell and the legislature on any changes in the prison and parole policies.
On Friday, Rell banned parole for all Connecticut inmates serving prison time for violent crimes after New York City police arrested a Connecticut man who was paroled less than a month ago.
Police shot and wounded James Biggs, 45, in the Bronx early Friday when they say he threatened them with a kitchen knife. Police said Biggs was in a car that had been carjacked from Hartford on Thursday.
That incident followed by less than two months a home invasion in Cheshire in which two convicted burglars on parole, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, are accused of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11. The home invasion in July inflamed public opinion, prompting Rell and state lawmakers to take a new look at the state's parole system.
On Friday, halfway house residents were ordered to leave their jobs and return to the residences, Garnett said. The Department of Correction is reassessing how the residents were placed into the programs, he said.
"We basically froze everyone in place so that we can consider exactly what the governor's order entails," Garnett said.
He said the new restrictions will be imposed for the "near future," but would not spell out how long that may be.
The previous policy on the extent of freedom granted to halfway house residents depended on a particular program, Garnett said Sunday. Some halfway house programs based on drug use or mental health issues could have been more restrictive than other programs, he said.
The policy spelling out the three reasons for residents to leave - work, treatment or religious services - is now uniform, applying to all halfway house programs.
The legislature's Judiciary Committee, which has held a hearing on sentencing and parole reforms, is considering several proposals, including building new prisons, enacting a true "three strikes and you're out" law, classifying home invasion as a violent crime to increase prison sentences and expanding monitoring of parolees. McDonald and Lawlor told Rell in a letter Sunday that her decision "will have an immediate and significant impact" on the Department of Correction.
Early projections indicate that 1,000 additional inmates will be incarcerated within six months, they said. Earlier this month, Correction Commissioner Theresa C. Lantz told the Judiciary Committee that the state could build a new 1,000-bed prison for about $110 million, in addition to annual operating costs of $38 million. She also said existing prisons could be expanded.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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