Christine Stuart photo

A group of Baptist ministers and the Black and Latino legislative caucus said Tuesday at press conference that they do not support the three strikes legislation proposed last week by Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Rev. Boise Kimber, president of the state Baptist convention, said three strikes legislation “puts Blacks and Latinos in jeopardy” because they make up a larger portion of the prison population than whites.  Kimber said his organization, which includes more than 100,000 members, wants judges to maintain discretion over sentencing. “A judge should be able to look at each inmate and give them a fair sentence,” Kimber said.

Rep. Toni Walker of New Haven said “judges are the ones who should make changes to the judicial system,” not the legislature and not the governor.

Click the play button to see some of Rev. Boise Kimber and Rep. Walker’s remarks

Senator Eric Coleman of Hartford said “we prefer judicial discretion and would like every case determination to be made on an individual basis.”

The Baptist ministers and Black and Latino legislators would like Mrs. Rell and the legislature to address the growing prison population and put their money where their mouth is when it comes to finding money for prison re-entry programs.

Rep. Walker said there are an estimated 19,700 people in prison right now, which is 300 more inmates than the state had in custody on Jan. 1. She estimated that by the end of the month it would increase by 1,000 individuals. “We have to move people out and provide them with community services,” she said.

The problem is the spending cap. Walker said if the state is serious about providing better services inside and outside the prison setting then “where are we going to get the money to do this?”

Sen. Coleman said he thinks any reforms the legislature addresses need to be directly linked to the incident in Cheshire. He said we all know the three strikes proposal would not have impacted either of the two parolees charged with the murders of a mother and her two daughters.

Last week, Mrs. Rell proposed imposing a third strike and 30 year minimum sentence on violent offenders.

Archbishop LeRoy Bailey Jr. of First Cathedral said “we as a society are not trying to keep people out of jail.” He said when inmates are released from prison they often return to a life of crime because they’re unable to get a job when they’re released to the community and end up returning to a life of crime. He said prison becomes “a way of life.” He said the state needs more programs to rehabilitate these inmates.

Bailey said an estimated 600 inmates are released into Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, and Waterbury every month and the state needs to give these communities money for programs to help newly released inmates.

Rep. Marie Kirkley-Bey of Hartford said when the two Cheshire parolees were released from prison they were living at a halfway house in her neighborhood. She said she saw the older one, Steven J. Hayes, walk down the street to Kent Pizza every day. “Why don’t we send them back to the communities they came from?” Kirkley-Bey said.

“If this family was Black this would not be happening,” Kirkley-Bey said.