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Oregon Legislature bill says courts shouldn’t consider how a rape victim became vulnerable to attack May 29, 2009

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A young woman at a college party gets drunk and blacks out. Then she’s raped.

Oregon is one of 18 states where prosecutors and courts are allowed to consider how she became intoxicated. Did she drink too much? Did somebody slip a drug into her beer?

It matters because, under current law, if a woman is incapacitated by her own actions, the person accused of attacking her could be charged only with sex abuse in the second degree and not with the more serious crime of first-degree rape or sex abuse, which carry mandatory minimum prison sentences.

A bill generating much debate in the Legislature would change the law so that it wouldn’t matter how a rape victim became vulnerable to attack.

"The question is, did she consent or not," said Rep. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis. "Nothing else should matter."

Gail Meyer, lobbyist for the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, has a 13-year-old daughter and says she appreciates the concerns raised by the bill’s proponents.

But Meyer argues that if the law is changed, prosecutors may be more likely to pursue serious charges in questionable cases.

For example, she says, consider the couple who drink alcohol, become intoxicated, have sex and regret it in the morning.

Under House Bill 2343, the law would treat that man now accused of raping the woman he drank with the same as any stranger "who pushes a woman into the bushes and rapes her."

Meyer acknowledges that a judge and jury would still sort out the facts. But she said, "It’s risky to go to trial on a Measure 11 crime."

The proposed change to Oregon’s rape law comes from the attorney general’s Sexual Assault Task Force. A similar measure was introduced in the 2007 Legislature but stalled.

Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in February, Attorney General John Kroger said it is important to update Oregon law from the days when people claimed a victim’s provocative clothing or behavior caused her to be raped.

"In the last 50 years, we’ve seen dramatic change in the law throughout the United States in which the focus of attention is no longer on the victims, their conduct, how they are dressed, and shifted solely to the perpetrators," Kroger said.

The attorney general’s office also argues that the current law is arbitrary. A man who stumbles upon and rapes an unconscious woman could get prison time if someone else slipped her a drug. The same offender could get by with probation if the woman was unconscious through her own action. The intent to rape is the same but the punishment is different.

The bill was on the House floor and ready for a vote in March, but it was unexpectedly moved to the budget committee. Often such maneuvers indicate a measure lacks the sufficient votes to pass.

Legislative leaders say this bill was moved back to committee because analysts found changing the law would create the need for more prison beds, costing $125,230 in the next two years and $698,933 in 2011-13.

On Friday, Sen. Joanne Verger, D-Coos Bay, who is chairwoman of the Ways and Means Public Safety Subcommittee, couldn’t say whether the bill would get back to the floor.

"We have not reached where we need to be to balance the budget in public safety," Verger said. "Anything that’s not in the budget right now is very difficult to justify."


Budget Crisis Could Curtail Oregon’s Prison Boom May 28, 2009

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With nearly 14,000 people locked up in state prisons and another 35,000 under supervision from the Department of Corrections, criminal justice has been one of Oregon’s most recession-proof industries.

The department’s budget has grown at a 20 percent clip each biennium since 1995, and every household in the state pays $1,414 every two years to fund corrections.

But with a $4 billion state budget shortfall, legislators have tough choices to make about crime and punishment. If any real reform is to be made, however, it must pass one giant hurdle: Voter-passed initiatives.

In 1994, the public approved a measure that mandated much longer sentences for 16 crimes. That in turn drove the number of inmates in the state much higher, while keeping them there longer.

Lawmakers face either overhauling the criminal justice system or continuing down the same path, watching corrections eat up more and more revenue.

While the state’s prison population has grown to nearly 14,000 people, crime has plummeted in every category. Criminal justice advocates say Oregon’s model is a success, but researchers and data from here and across the nation show something different: Only a small percentage of the drop in crime can be attributed to more prisons and longer sentences.

In Salem these days, the criminal justice debates under way are philosophical: Should the state simply let large numbers of inmates walk free to balance the budget in the short term or retool the way Oregon manages corrections?

Some legislators and even the head of the Department of Corrections, a former Republican legislator, are quietly pushing for a new approach to criminal justice — one that allows for a range of sanctions for lawbreakers so fewer people end up in prison.

"This is a structural nightmare. This is the box the Legislature is in," said Max Williams, director of Oregon’s Department of Corrections. "If we can’t change the size of the box, we are going to be stuck."

Ballot-box mandates

When Oregon voters handcuffed the Legislature in 1994 with Measure 11, they imposed long mandatory prison terms for 16 violent and sex-related offenses, required juveniles be prosecuted as adults for those crimes, and prohibited any earned time credit for anyone who received a Measure 11 sentence. At the same time, voters changed the state constitution to prevent lawmakers from tampering with sentences.



Oregon’s In a Box On Prison Spending May 27, 2009

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The following is an editorial from OregonLive.com and can be found here .

Release inmates early from prison, or delay Measure 57? Facing $100 million in public safety cuts, the best answer is both

All that spendy soda pop is on its way out of Oregon prisons, but there’s still a $100 million shortfall in the corrections budget. And the solution, sadly, can’t be found under a Mountain Dew bottle cap

All the real choices are much less sweet. One is to delay or suspend the Measure 57 sentencing law approved by voters last fall. Another is the early release from prison thousands of convicted burglars, thieves and other nonviolent offenders. Other proposals would expand what’s known as "earned time" and "transition," shortening sentences.

There is no good answer here. Suspending Measure 57 directly counters the will of the voters. Springing inmates early from prisons violates the "truth in sentencing" that prosecutors keep telling us must be the guiding public safety principle. Expanding earned time does the same thing, but promises to shorten sentences not just during the budget crisis, but for years to come.

It is a measure of how bad things are in this state that prosecutors and crime victims’ advocates are lining up behind the early release of nonviolent criminals as the least objectionable way to close the shortfall. This surely is the first time in Oregon history that district attorneys have called for the early release of 2,000 inmates that they sent to prison.

Weighing the tough choices, we think the prosecutors are right that the first step should be carving some prison time from nonviolent offenders. The prosecutors estimate that the state could save $55 million from the early release of 2,000 inmates. It’s not clear whether the savings would be that large.

The costs of early releases aren’t thoroughly understand, either. Costs of oversight of released inmates would be foisted onto already strapped counties. And because voters wrote into Oregon law a measure requiring resentencing hearings — before a judge — in any case where the Legislature reduces a sentence, prosecutors would have to notify thousands of victims and hold thousands of hearings.

It sounds simpler, on the surface, for the Legislature to suspend Measure 57 for two years. The supporters of that idea claim a suspension of the law would save about $75 million. That’s based on disputed estimates about the number of Measure 57 cases, ranging from 900 to 1,400 over the biennium.

To an extent, the argument comes down to whether Oregon uses its limited public safety dollars to send more property criminals to prison, or uses it to keep the property criminals now in prison there for their full terms. The district attorneys argue persuasively that the offenders now in prison have at least suffered some punishment, while those out victimizing Oregonians today have not.

Still, we question whether it really is possible to wring enough savings out of the system solely by shaving six months or less off the sentences of nonviolent offenders. If, as we expect, sentence reductions only provide about half of the necessary savings, then the Legislature will have to find ways to reduce or delay the costs of Measure 57.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski and others are exploring a Hawaiian program, known as Hope, that has had success with strong oversight and drug and alcohol treatment, backed by the certain threat of incarceration. If Oregon adopted that program, which could be funded with federal dollars, it could cut the Measure 57 cases and reduce prison costs.

There’s nowhere else to go looking for public safety cuts: Lawmakers already are whacking the Oregon State Police and its crime lab. Oregon’s judicial system faces deep cuts, too.

All of this avoids for now the larger question of whether Oregon’s corrections policies are sustainable over the long term. Oregon’s incarceration rate is slightly below the national average. But with Measure 11, which lengthened sentences for violent criminals, and now Measure 57, Oregon’s corrections budget has grown faster than the national average. It is now one of only four states that spends more on corrections than it does for higher education.

Lawmakers, with the support of prosecutors and anti-crime groups, have made some changes to reduce the Measure 11 costs. There will be a similar shake-out with Measure 57. But as it stands, Oregon puts more people in prison, and keeps them there longer, than it can afford.


Education, Not Corrections May 26, 2009

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The following is an editorial from The Daily Vanguard and can be found at this link HERE .

Stimulus money should benefit our children first and foremost

What’s more important: education or corrections?

Oregon seems to think that corrections are more important than education.

Especially during an economic recession where our state is millions of dollars in deficit, spending needs to be more carefully planned out than ever before. Priorities must be decided upon.

President Obama has given each state a stimulus check to help local governments keep running. Part of Obama’s goal is to give states some resources to help their schools since he’s frequently expressing the importance of good education.

However, news article after news article report how Oregon is compensating for the huge deficit by continuing to deplete the already inadequate education system. There are plans for school closures and layoffs. Teachers, who are already underpaid for their services may soon see a pay freeze or even a 3 to 4 percent pay reduction. Some districts contemplate whether or not they should drop to four days a week. Colleges and universities also see substantially less financial assistance.

Even before the recession, Oregon has been steadily reducing the education investment. Art, music and physical education have almost been completely annihilated. The school year keeps shortening. Classrooms keep becoming increasingly overcrowded.

Many students at Portland State, and other local universities, plan to be teachers when they graduate. But, at this rate, there won’t be any jobs for them. Due to layoffs, there will be many experienced teachers who will be struggling to find work. This grim outlook definitely contradicts President Obama’s speeches for an improved educational system for children.

Instead of using more of the stimulus money for education, The Oregonian reports, “Gov. Ted Kulongoski wants to use $13.5 million of Oregon’s federal stimulus dollars to create an enhanced probation program for repeat property and drug offenders who might otherwise face prison under Measure 57.”

The program would be modeled after a nationally recognized program in Hawaii called HOPE. High-risk offenders would go before a judge for every probation violation and would do short sentences in jail instead of going to prison.

Ensuring that people stick to probation, going before a judge and jail sentences are all expensive to Oregon. Even though the state then charges the offender fines to cover some of the costs, they usually don’t have any money and have to do a payment plan. This means Oregon has to put out a lot of money to see it possibly trickle back in. Of course, if the offender doesn’t pay the fines, they are thrown back into jail and Oregon pays more money for them.

Although the idea of HOPE is overall a good idea because it would keep more people out of Oregon’s already overcrowded prisons, it’s not enough. Lawmakers need to look at our laws and see how we can change them for the greater good.

Last fall there were two measures on Oregon’s ballot that would increase prison sentences for petty offences, such as drug and property crimes. There was a clause that only one would be able to pass, whichever had the majority. Luckily, the less severe one, which is also the cheaper one, passed. Still, lawmakers are considering delaying the new measure’s beginning until two years from now.

The bottom line is that we cannot afford to keep locking people up for exorbitant lengths of time for petty crimes. Nor can we afford to keep putting people in court every time they get high and violate their probation.

Oregon has the second-highest unemployment rate in the United States. Our deficit is millions of dollars. The state needs to cut money. Education and corrections are two of the most money-consuming departments in a state. We need to put education first. The way to do that is to spend less money on corrections.

A good way to start would be evaluating Measure 11 and other laws that lock people up for extremely long sentences without possibility of parole. With many of us losing our jobs in this economic recession, perhaps this is the perfect time to give offenders with good behavior a second chance.

For people caught with possession of drugs, maybe we just need to realize that they’re only hurting themselves. By forcing them through the legal system, we’re hurting ourselves as it makes the deficit grow and there’s one less taxpayer to help pay for our educational system.

Desperate times call for radical solutions.


Oregon Prisons Spent $773,000 On Soda For Inmates May 25, 2009

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Should tax dollars go toward buying Oregon inmates soda pop? One watchdog group says absolutely not.

Common Sense For Oregon awarded the Oregon Department of Corrections its first ever “Golden Fleece Award” after the group discovered a $773,000 soda pop purchase in the department’s 2007-2009 budget.

The group claims that same amount of money would fund three additional state troopers on patrol for two years.

Ross Day, the group’s founder, believes inmates should be given water instead of soda.

He argues that the Oregon Constitution only requires inmates be provided water “as nourishment.”

In a time of financial hardship, soda is a logical cut in the department’s budget, in Day’s opinion.

Corrections officials acknowledge that soda pop is a “spending issue.”

Corrections Director Max Williams said the department has been looking at strategies to reduce the amount of soda inmates consume.

The reductions would benefit inmate health and the department’s bottom line, Williams said.

Soda consumption was down 17 percent for a six-month period following the reduction decision.

But soda pop is also looked at as a “perk” by the department that helps keep tension down amongst the prison population.

Williams also said it was important to keep that $773,000 number in perspective. It amounts to about 3 cents of each meal the state serves prisoners in a biennial budget.

Corrections officials expect to serve 30 million meals to prisoners during the biennium.


Raising Funds To Fight For Sentences That Fit and Justice That Works May 24, 2009

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What a great start to FAMM’s first annual May Challenge to raise $100,000!

In just one week we’ve received donations totaling almost $10,000 and dozens of letters of encouragement and offers of help from across the country. We are well on our way to meeting our goal of $100,000!

That goal is important in itself – so we can continue to fight for sentences that fit and justice that works!  But it is especially critical that we raise $100,000 in May because it will trigger an additional $50,000 donation from one of our remarkable supporters!  If you have not yet made a contribution to FAMM, please do so today by clicking here !

We’re already off to a great start this year, but there is so much more work to be done. We need to build on last week’s historic Justice Department announcement supporting equal treatment for crack and powder cocaine sentences.  Congress must turn that recommendation, and further sentencing reforms, into the law of the land.  And we need to help our allies in state governments across the country, from Nevada to New Jersey, pass new laws that do away with one-size-fits-all sentencing.

Most of all, we need to continue to preserve precious hope for those with families who fear that one mistake will separate them for decades.

All of these things need to happen and they need to happen quickly. And your support can make them a reality.

Thanks in advance for helping FAMM fight for sentences that fit and justice that works!


Governor Takes Long View of State’s Challenges May 23, 2009

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Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Friday layed out his plans for a “reset” of state government, in which its mission would be retooled to match the fiscal realities of an economy expected to sputter along for many years to come.

The Democratic governor’s first major policy speech since December also will impress upon his Portland City Club audience that he and other state leaders are hard at work addressing Oregonians’ No. 1 concern: creating jobs by expanding the “green economy” and plowing state dollars into transportation and infrastructure projects.

And the speech, timed to coincide with state economists’ release of the latest revenue projections, will speak to the more immediate challenge facing state-financed schools, universities, human services, courts and public safety programs: how to cope with the sharpest decline in state tax dollars since statehood.

But Kulongoski asserted in a recent interview that his understanding about these hard times has prodded him down a longer path — in contrast to the one followed by other leaders focusing almost entirely on the immediate economic and revenue crises.

“The issue for the state is the next decade,” Kulongoski said. “This is an issue that you have to look out there five to 10 years, and you’ve got to have those discussions now.”

Kulongoski insists he’s not disengaged from the immediate challenges facing state government. But he said it is necessary for him to divide his attention between the 2009-11 budget, which goes into effect in July, and Oregon’s longer-term problems.

Specifically, Kulongoski said he hopes to engage voters in reconsidering some of the ballot measures approved in the 1990s. He cited Measures 5 and 50, which limited property taxes and shifted schools from that revenue source to the state’s income taxes. And he said he wants to re-examine the decision to impose mandatory minimum sentences through Measure 11, which has prompted an expansion of prisons and escalation of incarceration costs.

By early 2010, when the Legislature next meets for a brief session, Kulongoski said he hopes to have a blueprint “for how do we structure a discussion with the public about decisions we have collectively made over the last 20 to 25 years that have basically handcuffed the state government’s ability to manage through this economic difficulty. And I am talking about (Measures) 5 and 50 and 11. I mean, it’s skewing the choices that the public wants the Legislature to make.”

Proposal would face opposition

Any attempt in Salem to get voters to reconsider their past choices to limit property taxes and lock away violent criminals is sure to meet stiff opposition by those who promoted or currently support those policies.

Gresham-based conservative activist Don McIntire authored Measure 5 as a way to limit property taxes that had been rapidly rising through the 1980s. He says Kulongoski’s critique that it took away local control hides the real intent of revisiting the property tax initiatives.

“It’s a roundabout way of saying he wants property taxes to go up. That’s the only thing he can mean by it,” McIntire says. “What he’s doing, once again, is serving the government class.”

Oregon Crime Victims United leader Steve Doell said rolling back all or parts of Measure 11 would not net the kind of savings that critics of the mandatory minimum sentencing law promise. Of the $1.3 billion budgeted for the Department of Corrections in 2007-09, $290 million of that is driven by Measure 11, according to Crime Victims United.

“We’re not going to abandon a sentencing structure we worked 20 years to create to alleviate a budget crisis,” Doell said.

In addition to the property tax limit and mandatory sentencing measures, Kulongoski is also interested in revamping the kicker law, which voters in 2000 amended to the Oregon Constitution. It requires that taxes collected in excess by 2 percent of officially projected levels be rebated to households and corporations. Last year, it triggered rebates of $1.1 billion — just before Oregon entered the recession.

The Legislature has for now dropped plans to refer to voters a revamping of the kicker amendment, leaving it as another reform that Kulongoski said he wants to address after the current session’s early-summer adjournment.

As the governor sees it, the economy is undergoing a historic restructuring. Limited credit from banks and home equity will mean consumers can no longer be counted on to create the demand for goods and services that, in turn, create more wage and investment income.

“We are going to have a strong economy again. I believe that,” he said. “It is going to take its time to get there, and it’s not going to be the economy that we had before.”

As some sort of new economy emerges from the recession, Oregonians’ collective personal and corporate income will barely nudge along, Kulongoski expects. That means state taxes collected on wages, investment returns and business activity will fall short of what’s needed to pay for the level of public services Oregonians have come to expect from state government.

That makes this the ideal time, Kulongoski reasons, to ask Oregon voters if they remain committed to their 1990s decisions that forced education to compete with other programs for limited income taxes and to spend more on prisons.

Kulongoski is careful not to fault the Oregon voters who approved those measures.

“I don’t fault them for not looking down the road 25 years and saying, ‘My God, this is really going to get us,’?” he says. “They didn’t see it. Nobody could predict that. I think the long-term impact has finally come and caught us.”

Call for a revised budget

While Kulongoski is intent on looking at the big picture, some legislative leaders — even Democrats — have said the governor would be most helpful if he concentrated on Oregon’s more immediate budgetary crisis by presenting a revised budget that squares with expected state revenues — which are down $2 billion from levels expected when Kulongoski put his spending plan out in December.

“Because his budget is so outdated, it puts an extra burden on him — fairly or unfairly — to either lay out a revised budget or at least a revised vision for the budget we need to pass this session,” said House Speaker Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said it’s taken Kulongoski all of 2009 to come to terms with a recession that is draining billions of dollars from the state budget and thus stymied much of the governor’s spending priorities.

The situation has left the normally affable, grin-wearing governor in a more grim disposition, Courtney said.

“I think he’s really staggered now, and he’s struggling.”

But after working behind the scenes with the governor’s staff since January, Courtney said it’s clear Kulongoski is ready to devote his last 20 months in office to righting the ship of state for future governors to steer.

Is that a futile mission for a governor whose end-of-term lame duck period is fast approaching?

“Not to him. That’s not how he’s built,” Courtney said. “He’s still governor in this world, and I think he sees it as his responsibility to come up with a master plan for how we get through this.”

Kulongoski acknowledged that his futuristic focus may strike some as quixotic, given the time left for a term-limited governor who leaves office at the start of 2011.

But Kulongoski sees little risk and the potential for much reward in trying to lead Oregon down the long road.

“If I’m right, then the next governor is going to have a playbook of how to do this and the choices that have to be made,” he said. “But if I’m wrong, then other than my pride — that I look foolish, that I got a lot more excited than I should have — what’s the harm?”


Oregon Looks At Tougher Probation For Lesser Crimes May 22, 2009

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Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission, which advises the governor, recommended that Oregon adopt a similar model. Craig Prins, the commission’s executive director, says the goal is to offer high-risk property offenders a "last chance to succeed" in the community while allowing the state to preserve prison beds for violent offenders.

Measure 57, approved in November 2008, increased prison sentences for nonviolent, repeat property and drug offenses. The measure is estimated to run up more than $140 million in prison costs the next two years and require 1,600 more prison beds in the next three years.

"Obviously, the economic recession makes building that many prison beds difficult," Prins said. "So we were looking at a way to mitigate some of that impact."

Under the governor’s plan, this "last chance" probation court would begin in at least two counties, hoping to divert about 600 Measure 57 offenders a year to the enhanced probation, Prins said. He estimates it will save the state $12 million to $15 million in 2009-11, and $25 million in the next biennium.

Prins says the program "holds faith with 57," because voters allowed judges to depart downward from presumptive prison sentences.

The state has applied to use $12 million of the federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, or $3 million for each of the four years, for the program and wants it to start by summer’s end, Prins said.

Group lobbies for switch

Crime Victims United lobbied for a HOPE-type program before the governor’s plan was drafted. The group is pushing House Bill 3264, which would establish a pilot program in Multnomah, Marion or Lane county.

"If we had this kind of program in Oregon going back five or six years, there’s a chance we might not have had Measure 57 at all," said Howard Rodstein of Crime Victims United. "We might have had a criminal justice system that had more credibility with offenders and the general public."

Several Oregon judges say they’re open to the idea. At a public hearing last month, Multnomah County Presiding Judge Jean Kerr Maurer said she would be interested in any model treatment court that is tailored to Oregon’s needs, as long as there’s adequate money.

Multnomah County Circuit Judge Michael Marcus cautioned that the state not replace its successful drug treatment courts. To accomplish HOPE’s program, he said, adequate resources would be needed to round up probation violators and serve warrants swiftly, without taking public safety resources from other important programs.

Scott Taylor, director of Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice, supports the concept, but says the county’s probation or parole officers can already instantly sanction a defendant.

Still, there are differences: HOPE would bring the person before a judge, and Multnomah County has strived to reduce jail sanctions, relying more on community service or day reporting center sanctions.

"What I like about it is the swiftness and the accountability," Taylor said, "but I also think it would take up a lot of valuable resources that we could reserve for some of the more problematic cases."

The Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association voiced support. Multnomah County prosecutor Mark McDonnell said his office is interested, as long as prosecutors maintain control over who is referred vs. who faces prison time.

Alm said the proposal shouldn’t replace drug courts but target repeat violators. He also said judges should have the leeway to sanction a probationer to jail or to treatment or community service.

"The HOPE program is no different from regular probation," Alm said. "But we actually enforce the conditions and move so much more quickly than regular probation."


FAMM’s First Annual May Challenge Is About To Begin May 7, 2009

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We need to raise $100,000 over the next 31 days and if we do… we will get an extra $50,000 from a remarkable FAMM supporter!

This exciting opportunity comes on the heels of several key sentencing reform successes, including yesterday’s historic news from the Department of Justice to support equal sentences for crack and powder cocaine!  Last week in New York, the nation’s oldest mandatory minimum sentences were repealed.  And Massachusetts, Ohio, Nebraska, Michigan, and New Jersey are just a few of the states tackling sentencing reforms now.

We’ve waited decades for this kind of momentum and now we want to capitalize on it as much as possible.  That’s why we’re aiming higher than ever before.  I’ve challenged the FAMM team and our FAMM members to raise $100,000 over the next 31 days.  It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.

FAMM needs your help to meet this challenge and take advantage of this momentum!

Here’s how you can help:

  • Donate to FAMM online or send us a check!
  • Tell your friends to donate to FAMM. The prison and state with the most donors will get special recognition in the next FAMMGram .
  • Ask your place of worship to take up a collection for FAMM!
  • Ask your employer to match your donation to FAMM!
  • Become a "matcher" and match the gift of others!
  • Host a movie party at your house! Invite your friends to watch the film Perversion of Justice , collect donations, and send them back to us. (Call FAMM at 202-822-6700 to request a free copy of the film.)

This is a team effort so please get everyone you know involved. We can’t do this without you.

So, what do you say: are you up for a challenge? Because FAMM’s first ever May Challenge begins….now !


Crack Sentencing Reform May 5, 2009

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What an historic day in the long fight for crack sentencing reform! This morning (April 29) the Obama Administration joined its voice with law enforcement, the judiciary, legal experts, and others in a call to end the disparity between federal crack and powder sentences.

In a statement before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said that "the Administration believes Congress’s goal should be to completely eliminate" the difference in sentencing between the two drugs. Breuer said that the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity is "difficult to justify based on the facts and science," that it "often punishes low-level crack offenders far more harshly than similarly situated powder cocaine offenders," and that the impact of these laws has fueled the belief that our laws are unfair.

His concerns were echoed by U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, U.S. Sentencing Commission Acting Chair Richard Hinojosa, former DEA director and Congressman Asa Hutchinson, and Miami Chief of Police John Timoney. In his statement, Timoney emphasized that the distinction between the two drugs defied logic from a law enforcement perspective, saying, "It’s the same drug. It’s just manufactured differently."

In deeply moving testimony, FAMM member Cedric Parker recounted how the law has affected his sister, Eugenia, who is serving a sentence of almost 22 years for selling crack cocaine. Had she been charged with selling powder cocaine, her sentence would be nearly half that. To read Cedric’s testimony, follow this link: http://www.famm.org/TakeAction/CalendarofEvents/USSenatehearingApril292009.aspx

There appears to be agreement among those who execute the law and those who are affected by the law: the disparity must be completely eliminated. The only people who have yet to agree on a solution are those who make the law.

Unfortunately, the unwarranted and insupportable crack penalties will remain in place and on the books until Congress acts.  There are currently four proposals pending in the House that would address crack cocaine sentencing. No bills have been introduced yet in the Senate. Before any of these bills can become law, they must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president.  Keep checking FAMM’s "Bills in Congress " page for more information on pending legislation.