A blue sign standing outside that says "State of Connecticut Department of Correction Hartford Correctional Center."
Hartford Correctional Center. Yehyun Kim / CTMirror.org

Connecticut’s Board of Pardons and Paroles has paused commutations “pending an expeditious review of its policies and processes,” Gov. Ned Lamont’s office said Thursday.

Officials said the decision was announced during a meeting Wednesday with the board’s leadership and other stakeholders, which included lawmakers on the legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

“Our office is committed to continued bipartisan collaboration with stakeholders to ensure that the commutation process at the Board of Pardons and Paroles balances the importance of second chances for Connecticut prisoners, the perspectives of victims, and public safety considerations,” Lamont’s office said in a statement. “Yesterday’s meeting was the start of a collaborative process in which the leadership of the board committed itself to working with leadership of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee to consider revisions to its policies, including input from all stakeholders.”

The pause in commutations — reductions of prison sentences — comes as Republicans have raised concerns over a sharp increase in the last year. Their concerns prompted Lamont to remove Carleton Giles, who claimed sole responsibility for driving the change in commutations, as chair of the Board of Pardons and Paroles in favor of another board member, Jennifer Medina Zaccagnini.

Zaccagnini was the only board representative present at the Wednesday meeting, according to the governor’s office.

On Thursday, the Democratic co-chairs and ranking Republicans on the Judiciary Committee said they plan to make an attempt at crafting legislation clarifying the criteria for commutations.

“We raised a lot of our concerns. They were taken receptively,” said Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford. “I think the end result is that we are going to work towards passing some sort of a statute that provides the procedure for commutations addressing many of the concerns that we had raised.”

Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, the House co-chair, said the next step is for the Judiciary Committee leadership to work with legislative attorneys “on what a draft bill would look like, in terms of codifying the commutation policy.”

There was a consensus at the meeting that no commutations would be considered until the legislature decides if passage of a bill is possible before the session ends on June 7. Stafstrom said he was confident that the board had been acting within its statutory authority.

The board rolled out a revamped commutations policy in 2021 after a two-year pause, providing people with long sentences who were ineligible for parole a path out of incarceration. The previous pause was sharply criticized by advocates, who called on Lamont to take action against the board’s inactivity.

In 2022, 71 commutations were granted, 16% of requests, compared to a half-dozen in the previous six years combined, according to data collected by the state. Forty-four of the commutations were for people convicted of murder. 

Republicans said the spike in commutations was a drastic change that should have gone before the legislature. But the statute governing the board grants it broad authority over the commutations process. Moreover, a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court ruling held that the board has “unfettered discretion” to commute sentences and shorten the length of time someone spends behind bars.

Pushback on the commutations spike also came from people whose loved ones were harmed by people seeking commutations. Some said they have to relive their trauma upon receiving notifications about an incarcerated person hoping to have their sentence shortened. Echoing Republicans in recent weeks, they called for a stoppage in commutations until the current policy is reviewed.

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Jaden EdisonJustice Reporter

Jaden is CT Mirror's justice reporter. He was previously a summer reporting fellow at The Texas Tribune and interned at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. He received a bachelor's degree in electronic media from Texas State University and a master's degree in investigative journalism from the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University.

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.