NAACP looks into racial gaps in sentencing

The Greater New Haven chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has launched an investigation of racial disparities in prison sentences in the state of Connecticut. With the help of law students from Yale, Quinnipiac and Southern Connecticut State University, as well as any other interested volunteers, the NAACP hopes to document and look for solutions to the issue, officials said.

A 1998 report by the Council of State Governments found that in 1995, 73 percent of inmates in Connecticut state prisons came from minority groups. Official statistics report that approximately 22 percent of Connecticut’s residents were members of minority groups in 2000.

Greater New Haven NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile said the campaign aims to find the roots of Connecticut’s sentencing disparities.

“We want to map out where the problem is and then go about resolving the problem,” Esdaile said.

Esdaile said part of the inspiration for the campaign came from the NAACP’s work with inmates at the Webster Correctional Facility in Cheshire. Esdaile said he noticed that the vast majority of inmates at the Webster facility were members of minority groups.

Karrol-Ann Brown, who serves as chair of the Legal Redress Committee of the New Haven NAACP, said the campaign will complement the national NAACP’s recent work on juvenile justice issues.

“Since the NAACP is focusing on the juvenile justice system, I thought we could go a step further and look at the adult justice system,” Brown said.

Brown said the NAACP hopes law students from Yale and other local universities, along with undergraduates and other volunteers, will help in the campaign. She said some volunteers would be asked to monitor sentencing procedures by “just going into the back of the courtroom and observing how judges act.”

“We want to be able to hone in on what may be similar in sentencing practices and what may be used by only a few judges,” Brown said.

The NAACP’s campaign will include issuing “report cards” that rate prosecutors and judges after volunteers observe their sentencing methods, Esdaile said.

Esdaile said one of the most important components of sentencing disparities in Connecticut lies in the plea-bargaining process.

“They key part of this is the plea-bargaining process, where we feel the black population is getting the short end of the stick,” Esdaile said.

Esdaile hopes the involvement of law students and other young people in the campaign will help inspire a new generation of civil rights leaders.

“The history of the civil rights movement has always had young people involved,” he said. “I think it’s extremely important that we get young people reactivated in this movement — mobilizing the new Thurgood Marshalls and Constance Baker Motleys.”

Benjamin Gould LAW ’06 said he had not heard of efforts by the NAACP to recruit law students for this campaign, but that the issue of disparities in prison sentences would be of interest to many law students.

“I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t be interested in sentencing disparities,” Gould said.

Gould, a participant in the landlord-tenant clinic at the Law School, said more students might become involved in such issues when the Law School starts a new criminal law clinic next year.

Comments