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Repeal of Drug Mandatory Minimum Sentence on NPR July 28, 2010

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Today’s successful vote in Congress for crack cocaine reform was historic – the repeal of the first drug mandatory minimum sentence since 1971! That point was not lost on the media. FAMM has received calls from Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press and Congressional Quarterly, among others.

Tune in this afternoon to National Public Radio (NPR) for a full report on the crack cocaine victory, which should include comments Julie gave the reporter. Click here to listen.


FAMM Hails Elimination of First Mandatory Minimum Since Nixon Administration

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Today’s update from Julie Stewart:

Yes, we won! Minutes ago the U.S. House of Representatives voted to make crack cocaine sentencing laws more sensible and fair! Your calls and letters to Congress made a difference!

This is a fantastic victory – and one we have fought for more than 15 years! It will affect about 3,000 people each year, reducing excessively high crack penalties by more than two years on average. Right now the law is not retroactive but we are going to fight for retroactivity as soon as the bill is signed! To read FAMM’s press release, click here.

The bill will go straight to President Obama for his signature, within the next ten days.

Thank you for sticking with me during this long haul. I know that the pace of sentencing reform is painfully slow and discouraging but, hopefully, this victory gives you the renewed faith that together we can change sentencing laws!

Celebrate your victory!


Last Chance to Help Pass Sentencing Reform July 27, 2010

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This is the real deal. Congress leaves town on Friday. They must do something for sentencing justice before they go – but I need you to help me make it happen!

Last week I asked you to call your representative and tell him to support the crack bill, S. 1789, and you responded by the hundreds. Now we need thousands of FAMM members to pick up the phone today and call the leaders of the House of Representatives, the ones who make the decision about whether the bill should come up for a vote. And, if you haven’t called your representative, do so immediately!

Please make these two phone calls first: One to the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). And one to Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland).

Speaker of the House Pelosi: (202) 225-0100
House Majority Leader Hoyer (202) 225-3130

Your message to them is simple:

“I am calling to tell the leadership that I want them to vote on the crack bill, S. 1789, before they go home for the August break. The bill corrects an injustice in the law that is long overdue and it reflects the values of liberty, equality, and compassion that all Americans share.”

If the person who answers the phone tells you to call your own representative, tell them you already have (if you haven’t, click here). Then explain that you are calling them because Rep. Pelosi or Rep. Hoyer are the leaders of the House of Representatives.

Then, call your representative. If you’ve already called, ask your friends to call their representatives. They can find their names on the FAMM website (click here). Make your calls now – today and Wednesday!

We can do this! We can get this bill passed!

I’ve worked on sentencing reform for 19 years, ever since my brother went to prison for growing marijuana. None of the reforms we achieved while he was in prison helped him but I know they helped others – maybe even your loved one. I know this isn’t the perfect bill – it isn’t retroactive and it doesn’t eliminate the disparity completely – but we are not going to get the perfect right now. We can get this bill. And we can use it to push for even bigger changes in the future. So please help me help others now.

I’m depending on you. Our strength is our numbers, our voices, our passion, and our knowledge that we’re on the right side of this issue. Make your calls today! Ask your family and friends to call today! Let’s win this one!

Thank you for making the difference!


Committee Decries Cuts In Inmate Work Crews July 24, 2010

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Keeping the Powder River Correctional Facility off the state’s budget chopping block was a top priority at Wednesday’s Prison Advisory Council meeting, but the meeting also buzzed with criticism of a decision that curtailed some inmate work crews starting July 1.

“Our No. 1 priority is to protect the Powder River facility and staff,” said Fred Warner Jr., chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners. “We will fight all we can to keep Powder River. We will fight to our last breath to keep Powder River as the last minimum-security prison closed.”

Warner said the county’s second priority is to convince the Department of Corrections to resume the practice of having crews of Powder River inmates work for local nonprofits and public service agencies in the area for no charge, with the cost paid from the state general fund.

“We need to figure out how to get the inmates back out in the community working,” Warner said.

Ken Neff, director of operations at Powder River, said the state-subsidized inmate work crews were suspended July 1 in response to Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s June order that all state agencies trim 9 percent from their budgets to bridge an estimated $577 deficit for the two-year state budget cycle that ends June 30, 2011.

The Department of Corrections (DOC) initially proposed, in addition to ending subsidized work crews, closing Powder River and two other minimum-security prisons.

On June 9, Kulongoski rejected the proposal to close any prisons.

However, Neff said the other cuts took effect July 1, including the demise of the subsidized inmate work crews.

As an alternative, Neff said the governor directed DOC to make inmate crews available for hire at a rate of $458 for a 10-man crew for 8 hours, including DOC security staff; $543 for a 10-man crew for 10 hours; or $5.50 per day per inmate for host agencies when no DOC security staff is provided.

Peggy Timm of Baker City asked Neff how DOC can justify eliminating work crews, or making them too expensive for many nonprofits, considering Oregon voters approved Measure 17 in 1994, which requires inmates to work.

Neff said inmates will still do institutional work inside the prison.

In addition, some inmates still work for Oregon Corrections Enterprises operations, such as a Department of Motor Vehicles call center and a prison print shop.

In addition, Neff said educational and job training activities done by inmates while in prison also count as work under Measure 17.

Karen Yeakley, chairwoman of the Prison Advisory Committee, said treating Powder River inmates for drug and alcohol addictions and providing opportunities for them to work and get reconnected to the community are essential for rehabilitating inmates before they are released.

“The end result is we want good citizens,” Yeakley said.



Call Congress For Sentencing Reform July 23, 2010

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Early next week the House of Representatives may vote on a bill to reduce the 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, S. 1789, would change the ratio to 18:1 and eliminate the mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine – the first time a mandatory minimum sentence has been removed since the Nixon Administration! (Please read the Washington Post editorial about the bill that appeared today!)

This historic bill would lower sentences for almost 3,000 people facing prison each year, save taxpayers $42 million in the first five years, and advance justice and restore faith in a criminal justice system that many have come to distrust. The bill has already passed the Senate so we only need the House of Representatives to pass it before it gets sent to President Obama for a signature!

FAMM has been working furiously with other groups to line up support for this bill. But your call is critical to its successful passage. We need thousands of calls to Congress to persuade representatives that their constituents want this change. Even if you’ve never called your member of Congress before, now is the time. Call now.

To find out who your representative is and make your call, click here. We also provide talking points to deliver when you call.


CSG Justice Center Creates Reentry Programs Database July 22, 2010

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The Council of State Governments Justice Center announced today the launch of an online Reentry Programs Database, developed with support from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), U.S. Department of Justice. It is designed to catalogue adult and juvenile programs nationwide that work to make individuals’ return to communities from prisons, jails, and juvenile corrections facilities safer and more successful.

“Every day, ex-offenders return to communities in need of programs and resources that support the challenges associated with reentry. Now, service providers throughout the country will have access to a database of programs that will help those seeking services achieve their full potential,” said COPS Director Bernard K. Melekian.

“As BJA provides $100 million in funding to state, local, and tribal communities for reentry programs through the Second Chance Act, it is essential that these communities know about the strategies in use in other parts of the nation, to facilitate a peer-to-peer learning network so that we have the ability to learn from each other’s best practices. That is exactly why BJA has supported this project,” said BJA Acting Director James H. Burch, II.

The database will feature a variety of programs, ranging from community-based efforts to statewide initiatives. It will highlight self-reported innovative programs that have implemented promising practices and policies to facilitate successful reentry. This tool was developed with three goals: to promote peer-to-peer exchanges, highlight progress in the field, and help people returning home and their families to connect with local programs that can facilitate reentry.

“The unveiling of the Justice Center’s Reentry Programs Database marks the first effort to create a national clearinghouse of promising reentry initiatives. This new resource will better inform policymakers and practitioners as they implement policies and programs designed to support stronger families and communities and increase public safety,” says Dr. Frank Straub, Justice Center board member and director of public safety, City of Indianapolis.

Designed to be user-friendly, the database includes these features:

* Unlimited profiles. This online tool will allow reentry program staff to create multiple profiles for individual programs and initiatives by completing an online survey that gathers detailed information on target population, services, program activities, and data-collection efforts.
* Multiple search capabilities. Users can generate a targeted list of programs, with the option to search by state or by topic area. Available topic areas include employment, housing, law enforcement, and families.
* Additional resources. Profiles available in the database may include links to relevant media articles, research, and evaluations.

The Reentry Programs Database can be accessed at http://reentrypolicy.org/reentry-program-examples/reentry-programs-start. Jurisdictions with reentry programs are encouraged to create or update profiles.


Pot and Crime To Be On Ballot July 19, 2010

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Oregon voters will decide this fall whether to approve a network of medical marijuana dispensaries and to impose longer prison sentences for those who drive drunk or commit sex crimes.

The Secretary of State Elections Division on Friday announced that initiatives proposing both changes had enough valid petition signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

They are the first two of six proposed citizen initiatives to make the cut. The crime initiative is likely to wind up as Ballot Measure 73 and the marijuana dispensary initiative is expected to appear on the ballot as Measure 74.

Both measures represent efforts to expand on the work of past citizen initiatives. The proposed network of medical marijuana dispensaries builds upon a 1998 initiative passed by voters legalizing the use of pot as medicine by people who are issued cards by doctors who conclude that the drug could help treat medical conditions such as chronic pain or glaucoma.

Under current law, Oregon’s 36,000 medical marijuana card holders can grow their own marijuana, obtain it through a state-authorized caregiver who grows it for them, or buy it on the street. Supporters of medical marijuana say that’s too limiting for patients. According to the Elections Division, of the 130,702 signatures turned in for the measure, 85,848, or 66 percent, were valid.

The anti-crime measure is supported by Kevin Mannix, a former legislator, frequent Republican candidate for higher office, and the chief sponsor of several tough-on-crime measures in the 1990s.

Most far-reaching among them was 1994’s Measure 11. It set mandatory minimum sentences for several violent crimes. The same concept is at play with his latest measure. If approved by voters, it would set 25-year mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of certain repeat sex crimes. Repeat drunken drivers would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 90 days. Sponsors submitted 136,674 signatures, of which 93,223, or 68 percent, were valid.

Four other proposed initiatives had petition signatures submitted by the July 2 deadline, but are undergoing the verification process to determine whether enough signatures were valid to qualify for the ballot.

Two are related proposals allowing nontribal casinos in Oregon and authorizing one in Multnomah County. The third makes permanent the soon-to-expire dedication of a share of state lottery profits to parks and wildlife programs. A fourth would shift the task of redrawing political district boundaries from the Legislature to an appointed commission.

It is widely expected that of those four proposals, all but the redistricting measures will have enough valid signatures to make the ballot. The Elections Division has until Aug. 1 to complete the signature-verification process for citizen initiatives proposed for the November ballot.


After 17 Years, Two Men Freed In Rape Case When DNA Evidence Points To Other Suspects July 17, 2010

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Seventeen years ago, Alan G. Northrop and Larry W. Davis were led from a Clark County courtroom in shackles, convicted of brutally attacking and raping a woman in La Center, Washington.

Wednesday, they walked out of the courtroom free men, smiling and hugging family members after a judge dismissed their charges, citing new DNA evidence showing they weren’t at the scene and pointing to different assailants.

The dismissal signaled the future, they told reporters in the courthouse lobby. They can now make up for lost time with children, nieces, nephews and friends, and enjoy the simple things in life, such as having a job and going to the grocery store. Their record is completely cleared; they no longer must register as sex offenders.

“It’s just a major relief that it’s over,” Northrop said. “If it wasn’t for the Innocence Project and my friends in prison, I don’t know if I would have gotten through it.”

The DNA reversal didn’t come easy, The Columbian newspaper reported.

It took until 2006 for a Clark County judge to approve the post-conviction DNA testing and until earlier this year for the results to come back, showing a match with two different unknown men. The evidence, taken from the victim’s fingernails and pubic hair, hadn’t been tested back in 1993 because of the lack of technology to test small amounts.

The new testing was performed at the request of the Innocence Project Northwest, which operates in conjunction with the University of Washington School of Law.

Presented with the new evidence on April 21, Clark County Superior Court Judge Diane Woolard vacated the men’s convictions, which still gave prosecutors the option of taking the case to trial again.

At Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutors officially dismissed the charges without prejudice, meaning they could still be refiled should any new evidence be found.

But there’s no sign of that.

“Are we in agreement that the only evidence linking these men to the crime is the victim’s testimony?” Woolard asked Senior Deputy Prosecutor John Fairgrieve.

“Certainly the principal evidence,” Fairgrieve said.

The victim, a then-36-year-old housekeeper cleaning a home, had identified Northrop and Davis as her attackers in 1993, though she was unsure of one of her identifications and initially didn’t identify the other suspect in a photo laydown. She had been blindfolded during the event and got only a glimpse of her attackers.

Fairgrieve said that when reached by telephone last month, the woman said she did not want to take part in a second trial, one of two reasons prosecutors decided to drop charges. The other reason: While prosecutors tried to find other reasons to explain the new DNA evidence such as from the victim’s family or acquaintances, they couldn’t.

Northrop and Davis were convicted by two separate juries of rape, kidnapping and burglary charges and spent 17 years in prison. Davis completed his sentence on Jan. 4; Northrop was released when the judge vacated the convictions.

At hearing’s end, John Pantazis, staff attorney for Innocence Project Northwest, said that while he appreciated that charges were dropped, he was dismayed the prosecutor’s office never acknowledged the men’s innocence nor issued a public apology.

“It is troubling to know the state will not acknowledge that a tragedy took place,” Pantazis said. “Mr. Northrop and Mr. Davis are victims, too.”

When asked by the judge for a response, Fairgrieve said he wished to make no statement. However, in a later interview, Fairgrieve said his position is that there’s not enough evidence to tell if the men are innocent.

“The reason we don’t feel an apology is appropriate is that we feel the cases were prosecuted professionally,” he said. After hearing about the new DNA evidence, “we engaged in a diligent investigation.”

Prosecuting Attorney Art Curtis, who held the elected position when the men were convicted, did not respond to requests for comment.

After the hearing, Northrop and Davis said they didn’t harbor any ill will against the prosecutors who charged them in the Jan. 11, 1993, attack, but they admitted it took them years to say that.

“I could say some things that would be vicious, but I’m not,” Northrop told reporters. “They’ve seen the light. That’s all there is to it.”

“Halfway up the creek it could have gone a different way,” echoed Davis, noting he first went through numbness, shock and anger before letting go. “I’m just glad to be out so I can soar like an eagle.”

Asked what they plan to do next, both men were at a loss for words. Now working at a metal fabricator outlet, Northrop said he planned to spend time with his three children and grandchild. He’s also recently engaged to a high school friend. Davis, 53, has a construction job and lives in Ridgefield.


Making Second Chances Work Conference Website Released July 15, 2010

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The National Reentry Resource Center, with support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, has launched the Making Second Chances Work conference website. Conference participants and others interested in reentry can view the videotaped sessions with experts and download materials used during the conference on some of the most pressing issues facing the field.

Making Second Chances Work: A Conference for Grantees Committed to Successful Reentry was held May 26-27, in Washington, D.C. It brought together 2009 Second Chance Act grantee representatives. Individuals from state and local governments, community and faith-based organizations, and federally recognized Indian tribes participated in two days of meetings with experts in the fields of housing, employment, mental health and substance abuse treatment, community supervision, and other areas important to people transitioning from prison or jail to the community.

Many sessions focused on grantees making the most of the federal investment in their programs by highlighting accountability issues and key practices such as assessing an individual’s risk for committing future crimes, designing data-driven programs, and effectively allocating the limited resources available for people returning from prisons and jails. Special attention was dedicated to sharing strategies on meeting the distinct needs of youth returning to schools and families from detention in a secure facility in an effort to interrupt the costly cycle of crime and incarceration.

To visit the website, please click here.


The Big Black Hole-Oregon’s Budget Disaster July 13, 2010

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Fewer teachers, or fewer prisons? Paying more for health care, or locking fewer people up? The choices are truly that stark for voters in Oregon this year, as this effective op-ed from The Oregonian shows.

Oregon’s in a budget bind. Back in September 2009, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski created a Reset Cabinet to review the state’s “unsustainable” costs of providing services to Oregonians. In May, the Reset Cabinet released the “Reset” report, basically telling Oregon to “rethink and refocus our priorities” — or else. While not quite rising to the level of “It’s the end of the world!”, the Reset report is pretty darn grim.

One of the four horsemen of Oregon’s coming budget apocalypse is public safety, which eats up 16% of Oregon’s cash each year. Back in 1994, Oregon voters passed a slew of mandatory minimum laws — and now they’re paying for it, big time:

After years of little growth in prison capacity, tougher sentencing laws for violent criminals enacted by Measure 11 (1994) required the state to build more facilities and hire more staff in order to send more criminals to prison for longer periods of time. This squeezed funding for other programs, even within the public safety area. The Oregon State Police (OSP) suffered staffing reductions from the 1980s through the middle of this decade. Also, in response to the economic downturn experienced in 2002-03, courts were forced to close one day a week.

Still, shares of the public’s tax dollars and the state’s general fund expenditures for public safety programs have increased significantly over the past two decades, primarily because of the construction and operation of new prisons. State prisons housed 5,841 prisoners in 1990, compared to 14,000 today.

So, in short, more mandatory minimums has meant fewer cops and closed courts. How on earth does that increase public safety?

And things are only expected to get worse, according to the report:

In 2008, the voters approved the legislative referral of Measure 57, which increased sentences for persons convicted of repeat property crimes and required drug and alcohol treatment for addicted offenders at high risk of committing new crimes in the future. Portions of this measure were suspended by the legislature in 2009 due to budget constraints, but these provisions are scheduled to come back into effect in 2012.

Oregon’s prison population is expected to increase from 14,000 to 16,000 during the next decade, absent any changes in sentencing laws and practices.

I can hear the naysayers now: “But surely, giving people mandatory minimums has reduced crime — so it’s worth the costs!” The op-ed from The Oregonian doesn’t disagree, but cites this devastating fact:

The Reset report notes that crime is down not just in Oregon, but also in states that haven’t embraced mandatory minimum sentences.

Ouch. Okay, Oregon voters, it’s up to you:

So, are you willing to see more non-violent offenders diverted away from prison and into local programs that emphasize drug and alcohol treatment, rehabilitation and job training? Or are you ready to double down, and vote for longer mandatory sentences for sex offenders and repeat drunk drivers, two measures expected on the November ballot?

Pick your poison, Oregonians. We encourage you to take the route other states have taken, and reject more mandatory minimums. It sounds like your survival depends on it.