Pubdate: Tue, 20 Jan 2004
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2004, New Haven Register
Author: Natalie Missakian, Register Staff
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


NEW HAVEN - The temperatures were frigid and protesters had to jockey
for spots on a single snow-cleared path down the middle of the Elm
Street courthouse steps.

But despite less-than-ideal conditions, about 50 people bearing
candles and flashlights braved the cold to send a message to state
lawmakers about prison overcrowding Monday night.

"I believe if Dr. Martin Luther King were here, he'd be fighting for
this issue," said Shelton Tucker, an organizer of Monday's candlelight
vigil, which coincided with the holiday celebrating the life of the
slain civil rights leader.

The vigil was held to push for state legislation, tabled last session,
to address prison overcrowding.

Lawmakers had considered changing the criminal justice system so that
criminals arrested on technical violations of their parole or
probation would be less likely to be sent to jail.

They also hoped to give judges more discretion when sentencing and
weed out inmates with mental illness and substance abuse problems.

"Good legislation has been proposed again and again," said Barbara
Fair, Tucker's mother and an organizer of People Against Injustice.
"We are here to say: 'No more delays'."

The group also wants the state to halt the controversial practice of
sending Connecticut inmates to prisons out of state.

"A lot of people who are incarcerated have families that live in
poverty," said Tucker, who has three brothers incarcerated in
Connecticut, including one who just returned to the state from a
Virginia prison. "It's hard for them, if not impossible, to see their
loved ones."

Three years ago, the same group staged a Martin Luther King Jr. Day
vigil outside the home of then-state Department of Correction
Commissioner John Armstrong.

That rally called attention to the deaths of two Connecticut inmates
while incarcerated at the Wallens Ridge correctional facility in
Virginia. Connecticut inmates have since been removed from Wallens
Ridge, but are still being sent to other out-of-state prisons.

"When people don't learn anything (from the past), history repeats
itself," said Sally Joughin, another PAI organizer.

In addition to King, the protesters also remembered the late state
Sen. Alvin Penn, the Bridgeport lawmaker who fought ardently against
the prison transfers.

Fair said the state recently authorized the transfer of 2,000 more
inmates out of state, up from 500 when Penn took a stand against the
transfers. "He fought against what (Gov. John G.) Rowland has
accomplished in less than a year after (Penn's) death," Fair said.

State Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-92, said second chances in the criminal
justice system shouldn't depend on one's income level or skin color.

"There are some people who are powerful enough to get redeemed when
they mess up, but there are others who don't get that chance," she
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