Nearly three-quarters of the men incarcerated on weapons charges in Connecticut are likely to be arrested again within three years, and nearly half serve a new sentence, according to a new study by the state Office of Policy and Management.
The report, prepared for the state’s Criminal Justice Policy Advisory Commission, also found that two-thirds of the offenders sentenced on gun charges served time in prison for drug-related offenses.
“Just being in the proximity of an illegal gun puts you on the risk scale” of being a repeat offender, said OPM statistical analyst Ivan Kuzyk, who prepared the study. “And that’s something that was a major surprise to us.”
Kuzyk analyzed 14,391 male Connecticut inmates who were released from prison in 2005, including 1,862, or 13 percent, who had served time for a weapons conviction. Males comprised about 97 percent of the inmates released in 2005 after serving weapons-related sentences.
Within three years, 75.2 percent of those weapons offenders had been arrested again and 45.5 percent returned to prison to serve a new sentence.
By comparison, 67.5 percent of male inmates who had been serving time for non-weapons offenses and were released five years ago had been re-arrested within three years. And 36.8 percent were sentenced again.
But the study also found that even those arrested on gun charges but convicted and sentenced for a reduced offense had recidivism rates that nearly matched those serving time for weapons convictions.
“I think this shows us we need to take a more holistic approach toward recidivism,” said OPM Undersecretary Brian Austin Jr., who leads the office’s Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division and chairs the advisory commission. “We tend to take a look at the final outcome of a case after it has been disposed of and need to look more closely at the original charges.”
Since the 2008 home invasion in Cheshire that led to the slaying of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, coupled with the recession that began that same year, lawmakers have focused both on tougher sentences for repeat, violent criminals, and more community-based rehabilitation for non-violent offenders.
But Robert Farr, chairman of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles and a member of the advisory commission, said the new data exposes the problem of trying to predict repeat offenders based primarily on the crimes for which they’re convicted.
Farr, who requested the study, posed a hypothetical question. Who is more dangerous: an unarmed individual who hands a bank teller a note falsely claiming to carry a gun and demanding cash, or a drug dealer who keeps an Uzi in the car but wasn’t caught using it?
‘Clearly the weapons charge should be considered more dangerous,” Farr offered in answer to his own question.
Illegally carrying a weapon in a motor vehicle was the most common weapons offense identified in the new study, linked to 20 percent of those convicted of gun-offenses.
“This is something for the legislature to think about,” Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, also a commission member, said of the report, adding that existing sentencing laws for repeat offenders “don’t really reflect the danger that weapons hold for the public.”
The study also found that 65 percent of those serving time for weapons crimes also were drug offenders, 44 percent had been sentenced for property offenses and 42 percent had been convicted of felony violence.