© 2024 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
WPKT · WRLI-FM · WEDW-FM · Public Files Contact
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Hilary Carpenter nomination for prison ombuds role saved by committee

Hilary Carpenter, Gov. Ned Lamont's choice to serve in an independent prison oversight role, speaks with prison reform advocates at the Legislative Office Building on Tuesday, March 12, 2024, in Hartford.
Hilary Carpenter, Gov. Ned Lamont's choice to serve in an independent prison oversight role, speaks with prison reform advocates at the Legislative Office Building on Tuesday, March 12, 2024, in Hartford.

In a dramatic turn of events, the legislature’s Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee voted on Tuesday to advance Gov. Ned Lamont’s pick to lead Connecticut’s prison oversight initiative to the full legislative body, exactly two weeks after casting an unfavorable vote against the nominee.

Lawmakers had previously submitted an unusual 8-8 vote against Hilary Carpenter, a longtime public defender appointed by Lamont to serve as the correctional ombudsperson earlier this year, over concerns that she was not the most qualified for the position. The legislature considered the tie vote a recommendation that her nomination not pass, a hurdle that appeared difficult to overcome.

But in a committee meeting on Tuesday, many of the Republicans and at least one Democrat who initially voted against Carpenter’s nomination flipped their votes, resulting in a 15-2 tally, a decision that now creates a pathway for the House and Senate to debate the governor’s appointment in the coming weeks.

The Connecticut General Assembly rules allowed for the committee to reconsider Carpenter’s nomination as long as it occurred at the first meeting after the last vote, which fell on Tuesday.

“We all expressed our concerns with this nomination,” said Rep. Dave Yaccarino, R-North Haven, a ranking Republican on the committee who initially voted against Carpenter, at the meeting. “I think we all expected that her vote would move forward for further consideration by the House and the Senate in order to allow her to address our concerns. Unfortunately, the vote in that committee resulted in a tie.”

Sens. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, and Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport, kept their votes the same, voting against the appointment on Tuesday, while Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, once again abstained. Rep. James Sánchez, D-Hartford, changed his vote to the affirmative.

Nearly all of the Republicans who voted no or were absent in the first vote also voted positively this time. Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, who previously opposed the nomination, and Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, who did not cast an earlier vote, were absent or did not vote on Tuesday.

Carpenter did not immediately return a call for comment. Sánchez, the Democrat who changed his vote, did not return an email.

Both the House and Senate must also approve Carpenter’s nomination for her to be confirmed as the correctional ombudsperson, who would have, among a bevy of responsibilities, the ability to independently conduct site visits, communicate with incarcerated people, review agency records and draft a yearly report on confinement conditions in the Department of Correction.

Earlier this month, prison reform advocates relayed their concerns to legislators about Lamont bypassingConnecticut’s prison oversight committee’s recommendation and selecting Carpenter, whom the panel ranked last among the three finalists considered for the position. Civil rights attorney Kenneth J. Krayeske was first, longtime advocate Barbara Fair was second and Carpenter was third.

Following the testimony earlier this month, it appeared that Carpenter had a chance to make it out of the committee on the condition that she make immediate progress in alleviating concerns from the advocacy community about her appointment. But the rare 8-8 vote ended with a decision not to advance the nomination.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, voted in support of Carpenter’s nomination both times but with the caveat that he wanted to see immediate progress in her working with advocates. He reiterated on Tuesday that how effectively Carpenter builds relationships with the community will go a long way towards attaining a majority vote in both legislative chambers.

But Fair, who is largely responsible for creating the law establishing the ombudsperson position, is still not pleased with Carpenter, whom she feels should have withdrawn her nomination out of respect for the process.

“It just reinforces to me that she is not the right person for this job,” said Fair during the public hearing portion of a prison oversight committee meeting on Monday.

Carpenter’s nomination will first be considered by the House.

This story was originally published by The Connecticut Mirror March 26, 2024.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.