LAST July, when two parolees were charged with murder in the slayings of a woman and her two daughters during a home invasion in Cheshire, Connecticut’s criminal justice system was exposed like never before. Particularly troubling to lawmakers was that the system had classified both parolees as low-risk nonviolent offenders.
“It destroyed the state’s confidence in the criminal justice system,” Gov. M. Jodi Rell said last Tuesday as she unveiled her proposals to strengthen the system.
Mrs. Rell, a Republican, said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle supported most of her proposals, which include tougher penalties for home invasions and burglaries committed at night; the creation of a full-time parole board; and establishing an information technology system that would allow the police, prosecutors, parole officials and prison personnel to share information on offenders.
The House speaker, James A. Amann, a Democrat from Milford, said leaders from both parties would meet with Mrs. Rell to try to reach consensus on a so-called three-strikes law, so far the most likely sticking point in negotiations. The state’s existing persistent offender laws are considered weak and useful mainly to prosecutors negotiating plea bargains. Mrs. Rell wants to subject some three-time violent offenders to life in prison, but allow them to appeal after 30 years to a judge, not a parole board.
Derek Slap, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, said Democratic lawmakers were closer to Mrs. Rell’s position on strengthening sentences for repeat offenders than their Republican counterparts were. Democrats and Mrs. Rell want to leave room for some level of judicial discretion, while some Republican proposals would automatically mandate life sentences for career criminals.
Democrats who opposed taking away judges’ discretion in sentencing thought they had an ally in John A. Danaher III, the state public safety commissioner, after he testified at a hearing in November that three-strike laws carried the risk of increasing the dangers faced by police officers, since criminals with at least two violent convictions may be more prone to violence to avoid capture a third time. “They have nothing left to lose,” Mr. Danaher testified.New York Times