Imprisoned Connecticut Politician Gets Special Privileges
by Matt Clarke
In October 2008, the Hartford Courant reported that former Connecticut State Representative Jesse G. Stratton had received special privileges from Department of Corrections officials. Stratton, a 61-year-old widow with three grown children, was serving a four-month prison sentence at the York Correctional Institution. She had been arrested for her third DWI offense on September 21, 2007, and pleaded guilty and was sentenced on August 21, 2008.
According to York officials, the maximum number of names allowed to appear on a prisoner’s approved visitation list is seven. DOC regulations say it is ten. Stratton’s list had fifteen.
DOC regulations limit prisoners to three visits a week. However, seven of the people on Stratton’s list had a notation that their visits didn’t count toward the three-visit limit. The names on Stratton’s visitation list included state Environmental Protection Commissioner Gina McCarthy, State Comptroller Nancy Wyman, State Representative Cameron Staples, State Senator Eileen Daily, former State Representative Peter Smith (who is now a lobbyist), and “Pam Church,” who apparently is Pamela Churchill, a friend of Stratton who is a professional fundraiser for nonprofits and schools.
The state officials did not have to go through the usual process to be placed on Stratton’s visitation list. Normally a prisoner submits a prospective visitor’s name for approval, then the prospective visitor submits a written request to visit the prisoner. A criminal background check is performed and several weeks later the visitor is approved. The legislators and other state officials sidestepped this procedure and were approved for “special visits.”
“As a courtesy to a number of elected officials who requested to visit inmate Stratton ... upon her incarceration at the end of August, a number of special visits were approved,” stated Andrius Banevicius, a DOC public information officer, who explained that special visits circumvent normal visitation restrictions and “are frequently provided to other offenders before the formal visiting list process can be completed.”
Banevicius refused to divulge information regarding who approved the visits, how frequently such visits are granted, and whether other prisoners had received such special visits. He did say the DOC believed “that all the rules and regulations were adhered to.”
However, DOC regulations indicate “special visits” are for potential visitors “awaiting approval or under unusual circumstances” or who have “traveled from out of state for a one (1) time visit,” or who “may assist the inmate in release planning or provide counseling.”
The lawmakers said they visited Stratton as friends and not for any other purpose. Wyman and McCarthy stated no one ever told them about an application process. Staples said he thought anyone could visit if they presented valid identification to prison officials.
Eight of Wyman’s visits were during daytime working hours instead of evening visitation hours. She used a $63,000-per-year aide as a driver when visiting Stratton at the York facility, and did not list the mileage as personal miles subject to state income tax on her monthly reports. She is seeking legal advice on the mileage issue.
Shortly after arriving at York, Stratton was enrolled in the Marilyn Baker residential treatment unit for substance abusers, a highly-esteemed six-month program with a lengthy waiting list, even though she was only serving a four-month sentence. Banevicius declined to say whether Stratton had been given special consideration in her admission to the program.
Due to Banevicius’ reticence, the governor’s top lawyer got involved. “Our chief legal counsel, Anna Ficeto, has asked [DOC] Commissioner Lantz about the questions raised in [the Courant] article,” said Chris Cooper, a spokesman for the governor’s office.
Of course the honest answer to such questions is simple: Incarcerated lawmakers are afforded special privileges due to their influence and political standing, and do not have to abide by the rules that apply to all other less-important prisoners.
Source: Hartford Courant
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