Paroles board member survives ouster attempt over sentence reductions

After a heated debate, state senators voted to reappoint Carlton Giles on a nearly party-line vote. Two Democrats joined every Republican in voting no.

John Craven

Apr 12, 2023, 10:21 PM

Updated 401 days ago


Despite a big jump in sentence reductions, the former chairman of the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles escaped a bid to oust him from the panel entirely Wednesday.  
After a heated debate, state senators voted to reappoint Carlton Giles on a nearly party-line vote. Two Democrats joined every Republican in voting no.
Giles initiated a controversial new commutation policy in 2021, after decades of granting almost no sentence reductions. From 2016 to 2019, the Board of Pardons and Paroles only reduced five sentences. But over the past year and a half, it's granted 71 commutations – still only 16% of all requests.
Civil rights attorney Alex Taubes represented 44 of those offenders.
"After 25 or 30 years in prison, when a person is also reformed and rehabilitated, why should we keep them in prison and continue to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to incarcerate them?" Taubes said.
Some crime victims' families urged lawmakers to remove Giles. Among them was Audrey Carlson. Her daughter's killer accepted a 42-year sentence but later applied for a sentence commutation. The Board of Pardons and Paroles denied the request.
"We accepted a 42-year contract – ironclad – knowing and trusting that this system is going to work for us," said Carlson. "Well, guess what. We were wrong."
Last month, Giles told lawmakers that each commutation was thoroughly vetted.
"Victims, as I said, are involved in our process, and we take very seriously the input and impact of victims," he told the legislature's Judiciary Committee.
Democratic state Sen. Gary Winfield said Giles was following the law and simply reforming a broken system.
"The process wasn't working," he said.
But GOP lawmakers said Giles should have consulted legislators and Gov. Ned Lamont before making such a major policy shift.
"That is our realm," said state Sen. John Kissel (R-Enfield). "We're the lawmakers. We're the ones who make these decisions."
On Monday, Lamont sided with Republicans and replaced Giles as board chair, frustrating criminal justice advocates.
"It's outrageous," said Taubes. "The governor needs to reconsider this decision immediately because it'll set an extremely bad precedent."
Lamont has suggested a pause in new commutations until he can meet with stakeholders in the next few weeks, but the governor has no authority to force the change. As of last week, the Board of Pardons and Paroles was still granting them.
A lifelong friend of Carlson also wants a pause – and wants lawmakers to set a new commutation policy.
"We need a change in the policy," said Jan Kirtzman, of Newington. "We need a drastic change. We need an upheaval of this policy."
Giles' nomination now heads to the Connecticut House of Representatives, which approved two other members that decided on commutations.

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