Monthly Archives: June 2014

Tell FEDS: Make drug offender guidelines retroactive – by JULY 7

The bottom line of this email from FAMM – Families Against Mandatory Minimums – is to contact the U.S. Sentencing Commission to insure that new sentencing regulations for drug offenders are retroactive, and permissive. Our federal prisons are filled with non-violent drug offenders who are NOT a threat to the community.

For example, “Brian,” a man I know who is serving 20 years over a half-cup of cocaine, has a brother doing 30 years for the same half-cup of cocaine. While in prison during the last 12 years, Brian was involved in a small tussle in the dining hall, ONCE, which could jeopardize his ability to qualify for release. Has your behavior been perfect for the last 12 years? I bet you’ve run at least one stop sign.

I urge you to take action today. It won’t take long. Here’s what FAMM sent June 11, 2015.

Today the U.S. Sentencing Commission held an all-day hearing on drug guideline retroactivity. As you know, the Commission agreed to lower guidelines by two levels for most drug offenders coming into prison after November 1, 2014.

The question they tackled today is whether to apply that lower guideline to people already serving drug sentences. The Commission has estimated that about 51,000 prisoners could be eligible for lower sentences if the Commission approves retroactivity and their average sentence reduction would be about 23 months.

There were 16 witnesses at today’s hearing – including FAMM’s general counsel, Mary Price. We were most eager to hear the positions of the Department of Justice, the U.S. Probation Office, and the federal judges. In a nutshell, this is what they said:

Federal judges support retroactivity of the drug guideline. Judge Irene Keeley spoke on behalf of the Federal Judicial Conference and said that although retroactivity could result in motions from 51,000 prisoners, that was the courts’ “burden to bear.” She also called it a “moral issue” and said it would be fundamentally unfair to categorically deny retroactivity to prisoners.

The U.S. Probation Office basically said “we know how to handle retroactivity,” and pointed to crack reductions they have processed in past years.

The Department of Justice is a different story. The DOJ representative told the Commission that the DOJ supports “limited” retroactivity. DOJ thinks only the squeakiest clean drug prisoners should benefit – ones without any priors or guns or role enhancements. While that sounds semi-logical, it isn’t. That’s what judges are for – to determine who should benefit from retroactivity. That’s why we want judges to look at every applicant’s motion and decide whether the person is too dangerous to let out of prison.

Under the Department of Justice’s proposal, only 20,000 prisoners would be eligible to benefit from retroactivity. As you can imagine, FAMM and others who testified strongly oppose that position and argued against it. 

We know that criminal history frequently overstates how dangerous a person is; that testifying to your innocence at trial can trigger an obstruction of justice bump; that there is a difference between someone who points a gun at another person and someone who got a gun bump from a codefendant’s gun; and that every case is different and deserving of individual attention. That was the message FAMM’s Mary Price sent to the Commission when she testified.

My take-away from the hearing is that the Commission still needs to be persuaded to vote FOR retroactivity – WITHOUT LIMITATIONS. They need to hear from families and friends of those in prison who are not squeaky clean but still deserve to have a judge determine if they are too dangerous to release a little early.

The Commission needs to hear that applying the lower guideline retroactively is the kind of fundamental fairness thatAmericans believe in. If your car had a defect, the manufacturer wouldn’t just fix it for those who buy cars in the future; they would fix it for everyone who already owns the car. Applying the lower drug sentencing guideline is the same argument. And they need to hear about the children of prisoners who are being punished as much or more than the prisoner.   

We still have until July 7th to write to the US Sentencing Commission and tell them to make the drug guideline retroactive, you can write to them from this link. Please do it! They will vote on whether to make it retroactive on July 18th. This is hugely important. Get involved. Get your families involved. Let’s make justice happen!

Best,

Julie

Julie Stewart
President and Founder
Families Against Mandatory Minimums

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New York Times editorial board condemns mass incarceration

End Mass Incarceration Now

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/25/opinion/sunday/end-mass-incarceration-now.html?_r=0

For more than a decade, researchers across multiple disciplines have been issuing reports on the widespread societal and economic damage caused by America’s now-40-year experiment in locking up vast numbers of its citizens. If there is any remaining disagreement about the destructiveness of this experiment, it mirrors the so-called debate over climate change.

In both cases, overwhelming evidence shows a crisis that threatens society as a whole. In both cases, those who study the problem have called for immediate correction.

Several recent reports provide some of the most comprehensive and compelling proof yet that the United States “has gone past the point where the numbers of people in prison can be justified by social benefits,” and that mass incarceration itself is “a source of injustice.”

That is the central conclusion of a two-year, 444-page study prepared by the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences at the request of the Justice Department and others. The report highlights many well-known statistics: Since the early 1970s, the nation’s prison population has quadrupled to 2.2 million, making it the world’s biggest. That is five to 10 times the incarceration rate in other democracies.

On closer inspection the numbers only get worse. More than half of state prisoners are serving time for nonviolent crimes, and one of every nine, or about 159,000 people, are serving life sentences — nearly a third of them without the possibility of parole.

While politicians were responding initially to higher crime rates in the late 1960s, this “historically unprecedented” growth is primarily the result of harsher sentencing that continued long after crime began to fall. These include lengthy mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses that became popular in the 1980s, and “three strikes” laws that have put people away for life for stealing a pair of socks.

And even though the political climate has shifted in recent years, many politicians continue to fear appearing to be “soft on crime,” even when there is no evidence that imprisoning more people has reduced crime by more than a small amount.

Meanwhile, much of the world watches in disbelief. A report by Human Rights Watch notes that while prison should generally be a last resort, in the United States “it has been treated as the medicine that cures all ills,” and that “in its embrace of incarceration, the country seems to have forgotten just how severe a punishment it is.”

The severity is evident in the devastation wrought on America’s poorest and least educated, destroying neighborhoods and families. From 1980 to 2000, the number of children with fathers in prison rose from 350,000 to 2.1 million. Since race and poverty overlap so significantly, the weight of our criminal justice experiment continues to fall overwhelmingly on communities of color, and particularly on young black men.

After prison, people are sent back to the impoverished places they came from, but are blocked from re-entering society. Often they cannot vote, get jobs, or receive public benefits like subsidized housing — all of which would improve their odds of staying out of trouble. This web of collateral consequences has created what the National Academy of Sciences report calls “a highly distinct political and legal universe for a large segment of the U.S. population.”

All of this has come at an astounding economic cost, as tallied by a report from the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project — $80 billion a year in direct corrections expenses alone, and more than a quarter-trillion dollars when factoring in police, judicial and legal services.

Many of the solutions to this crisis are clear, even if the political path to them often is not: Reduce sentence lengths substantially. Provide more opportunities for rehabilitation inside prison. Remove the barriers that keep people from rejoining society after they are released from prison. Use alternatives to imprisonment for nonviolent offenders, drug addicts and the mentally ill. Release elderly or ill prisoners, who are the least likely to re-offend. And since more than 95 percent of inmates are eventually released, rate prisons on their success in keeping former inmates from returning — which as many as two-thirds currently do. Some states have already taken smart and effective steps in these directions, but there is a long way to go.

The insanity of the situation is plain to people across the political spectrum, from Attorney GeneralEric Holder Jr. to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who agree on the urgent need for change. The research is in, and it is uncontestable. The American experiment in mass incarceration has been a moral, legal, social, and economic disaster. It cannot end soon enough.

See you in the Beacon Hill lobby Tuesday June 10

The term “lobbyist” originated in Massachusetts when people who wanted to influence legislators waited in the “lobby” outside of the Senate and House chambers.

On Tuesday, June 10, from 10 am to 3 pm, a group of activists will be hanging around the Statehouse lobbies, elevators and stairwells to ask, “Do you work here?”

If the answer is “yes,” we want to know:

For which legislator do you work?

Did your office receive the “New Jim Crow” on April 30 when volunteers delivered a copy of the landmark book by Michelle Alexander to every member of the Mass. House and Senate?

Did s/he read it? Did the legislator read it?

What did you think of it?

Did you know you can view videos of Michelle Alexander on you tube?

5 minute Colbert interview

23 minute TedX Talk

52 minute address to Riverside Church

Does the legislator know about the bipartisan Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform caucus led by Rep. Sannicandro and Sen. Eldridge?

Will anyone from the legislator’s office be attending the June 24 briefing in Room 437 of the Statehouse, 11:30 am to 1 pm, featuring a speaker who recovered from drug addiction? EMIT, End Mass Incarceration Together, a Unitarian Universalist Task force of UU Mass Action, provides a free lunch. Hope to see you there.

Contact me if you want to join us in our informal lobbying on June 10. susan . tordella @ g mail . c o m   978-772-3930. Come for as much time as you can spare. We’ll be going in pairs.

New York Federal Judge: Tens Of Thousands Of Innocent People Have Likely Pleaded Guilty

Prison Reform Movement's Weblog- America: Land of the Free, Home of the Incarcerated

BY NICOLE FLATOW

Gavel Handcuffs Shutterstock

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK/ AFRICA STUDIO

A prominent New York federal judge said this week that a broken guilty plea system is sending too many people innocent people to prison, coerced by the threat of long prison sentences and not enough information.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said the modern American system in which 97 percent of defendants plead guilty “is totally different from what the founding fathers had in mind.” Rakoff elaborated on his concerns during an interview with the New York Daily News, a month after he first raised the issue during a speech at the University of Southern California.

Rakoff blamed draconian mandatory minimum sentences for coercing defendants into accepting plea deals, forcing defendants to “choose between Satan and Lucifer.” He cited estimates that between 1 and 8 percent of those who plead guilty are actually innocent. Even if that percentage were just 0.5 percent…

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