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Monday, March 25, 2019
Bill Flows from Criminal Justice Clinic’s Work on Parole Revocation Reform
On March 22, 2019, the Samuel Jacobs Criminal Justice Clinic (CJC) submitted testimony to the Connecticut General Assembly in support of Senate Bill 880, “An Act Increasing Fairness and Transparency in the Criminal Justice System.” CJC’s testimony supports the bill’s parole revocation provisions, which establish data collection and reporting requirements as well as a pilot program to provide counsel to all who cannot afford representation.
For several years, CJC has worked to reform the parole revocation process in Connecticut. Its “Parole Revocation Project” began in 2015, when former Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy recruited the clinic to investigate the state’s high rates of reincarceration.
“CJC agreed to study parole revocation, because this system has served as a leading driver of mass incarceration in our state,” explained Nicole Brambila ’19, a Student Director of CJC. “By studying the system in depth, we learned how revoking parole, often for non-criminal violations, has made it difficult for many people returning from prison to gain a steady foothold in their communities.”
In September of 2017, CJC published Parole Revocation in Connecticut: Opportunities to Reduce Incarceration. One key finding: In the cases that the clinic watched, parole was revoked 100 percent of the time — meaning that the defendant was always sent back to prison. As the clinic reported, sending a person on parole back behind bars can have lasting effects. In fact, 79 percent of the people the clinic spoke with reported losing a job as a result of re-incarceration and 47 percent reported losing housing.
To address these harms, CJC is working with state leaders to make the necessary changes described in the report. Over the past two years, for example, the clinic has helped to inform defendants of their due process rights, advocated for the use of preliminary hearings to create an opportunity for earlier release, and launched a pilot program, through which students represent people at risk of losing their parole status who cannot afford to pay for lawyers. S.B. 880 builds on these reforms by expanding access to attorneys and by collecting the data necessary to highlight the ways in which the revocation system can be improved.
“In Connecticut, the vast majority of people on parole are unrepresented at revocation hearings. Having lawyers will help protect their rights and provide for a fairer process in revocation proceedings,” said Bina Peltz ’19, who drafted the clinic’s testimony. “The bill’s data collection and reporting requirements will also shine a much-needed light on the revocation process, helping everyone who works in the parole system identify areas that would benefit from reform.”
“S.B. 880 will help ensure that people facing re-incarceration have lawyers to advocate for them to stay in the community and to keep their homes, jobs, and family support,” said Student Director Catherine Logue ’19. Still, the clinic’s work is far from over. “The bill will reveal information about the outcomes of revocation hearings and the types of violations involved,” said Logue. “Having this information will help us keep people from returning behind bars.”
The Criminal Justice Clinic represents clients in misdemeanor and felony cases. It also represents clients in a wide range of post-conviction sentencing cases, both federal and state.
The Parole Revocation Project is led by Clinical Professor of Law Fiona Doherty ’99, Clinical Associate Professor of Law Miriam Gohara, and Clinical Associate Professor of Law Marisol Orihuela ’08 as well as students Nicole Brambila ’19, Alexandra Eynon ’19, John Gonzalez ’20, Kate Logue ’19, Danielle Makarsky ’19, Bina Peltz ’19, Saúl Ramírez ’19, and Samantha Smith ’19.