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FAMM’s next steps in the courts January 24, 2019

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Mary Price, General Counsel of FAMM, writes:

FAMM has been very busy in the courts over the last few months. I wanted to share the latest news with you, and what FAMM’s next steps will be.

We recently filed friend-of-the-court (or “amicus”) briefs supporting two prisoners challenging the BOP’s refusal to file a motion for their compassionate release. We are happy to report that, before these cases could even be decided, the First Step Act settled the question. Today, prisoners denied compassionate release can go straight to the sentencing court.

We’re also involved in two cases involving mandatory minimums. One considers when a judge may allow a jury to hear that a conviction will trigger a mandatory minimum sentence. The government routinely threatens or charges counts that result in mandatory minimums. Judges cannot change a mandatory minimum sentence, no matter how unjust. We think that the only check on the abuse of power in a case like this might be an informed jury.

In another case, one before the Supreme Court, our brief agrees that a jury must find facts beyond a reasonable doubt before they can be used to trigger a mandatory minimum intended to punish a supervised release violation.

Requests also keep coming in for amicus briefs from FAMM. In one, we’ve been asked to weigh in on a question that has vexed the Supreme Court for decades: how to determine what is a crime of violence when Congress has been less than clear in writing the definition. The case, United States v. Davis, also involves a mandatory minimum sentence; so we will be sure to participate.

You can read about all these cases, as well as our amicus briefs, by visiting our website.


Unanimous U.S. Supreme Court Issued a Decision Allowing Judges More Freedom When Deciding Prison Sentences April 11, 2017

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FAMM had shared its analysis of the legal and policy issues at stake in the form of a friend-of-the-court brief, and were pleased that the Court agreed with so many of their arguments.

FAMM’s general counsel Mary Price and president Kevin Ring attended the Court’s oral argument last month, along with the skilled pro bono attorneys who helped them draft their brief. FAMM is grateful to them.

FAMM is grateful to all of their supporters. This is a victory for everyone.

To read further details, click mandatory sentencing reform.


Honoring Our Veterans November 11, 2016

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Today we honor our nation’s Veterans. Thank you for your service and all you’ve done for this country. Julie Stewart, President of FAMM, reminds us to also remember a forgotten group.

On Veterans Day, our country remembers and honors the brave and selfless service of our men and women in the U.S. military. Unfortunately, there’s one particular group of veterans often forgotten: those behind bars.

Just because our veterans in prison are out of sight doesn’t mean they are out of mind – or unappreciated. Here at FAMM, we like to honor them. Recently, we asked veterans in federal prisons to share what their military service meant to them and how it impacted them. The prisoners who responded to us were proud of their service and glad to be remembered for more than just the crimes they committed.

Bradley was honorably discharged after suffering a traumatic brain injury during six years of service in the U.S. Army. He writes, “After my injury, it was very difficult to adjust from a life of constant deployments to a life where I wasn’t allowed to work or even drive a car. After two years of this I had become severely depressed and began to use drugs to self-medicate. Consequently, I went out and got a part-time job seating tables at a restaurant. Unfortunately, the owner of the restaurant was a narcotics dealer who ultimately persuaded me to become involved. Today, I am very ashamed of making that horrible decision.” He is serving more than 25 years in prison for his drug offense.

Click here to read more stories and quotes from our veterans in prison and their loved ones.

This Veterans Day, FAMM gives our heartfelt thanks to those behind bars who have served in the U.S. military. Please remember them this week as you celebrate the veterans in your own families and communities.


Congress Is Trying To Make Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Worse June 2, 2016

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Molly Gill, the Director of Federal Legislative Affairs for FAMM, just sent out a new important message:

It happens every election year: a member of Congress feels like they need to get “tough on crime” and crack down on whatever scary drug or high-profile crime is making the news back home. This year, it’s Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and she’s trying to make mandatory minimum sentences for the drug fentanyl even worse.

We’ve seen this nonsense before, and we want to stop it dead in its tracks. We need your help! Senator Ayotte’s proposals could be voted on next week!

Click here now to tell your U.S. Senators to vote “no!” on harsher mandatory minimum drug laws.

Fentanyl is a drug often mixed with heroin before it even gets to the U.S. — users often don’t even know fentanyl has been mixed in with their drugs. It already doesn’t take much fentanyl to trigger a decades-long mandatory sentence. Under her proposals, Senator Ayotte would make those drug amounts truly tiny — as little as half a gram of any substance containing even trace amounts of fentanyl would send a person to federal prison for at least 5 years!

Senator Ayotte’s proposals will do the last thing America needs: lock up even more low-level drug users, sellers, and addicts for long prison stays. Mandatory minimum drug sentences haven’t prevented America’s heroin problem. Making drug sentences worse isn’t going to make our drug problems better!

Senator Ayotte and other U.S. Senators need to know that voters won’t support these election-year shenanigans. Help us make that message loud and clear: write your U.S. Senators now to stop them from making mandatory minimums worse!

Thank you for taking action and helping us in this fight!


Rally To Reform Measure 11 February 20, 2016

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When Oregon voters passed Measure 11 in 1994, it established mandatory minimum prison sentences for specific crimes against people.
Now, after more than 20 years, those mandatory minimum sentences are being given a second look, and a rally to reform Measure 11 took place in Salem on Friday.

One group at the rally said they “want judges to decide prison sentences, not the DAs.” Others held signs with messages: “Give 1st Time Offenders a Fair Chance” and “Time does not fit the crime”.

Opponents of Measure 11

Among those urging reform at the state capitol Friday was Christine VanOrder, who was just 19 when she was sentenced to the mandatory minimum of just under 6 years for a 2nd-degree robbery.

The fact she was a first-time offender wasn’t taken into consideration under Measure 11’s rules.

VanOrder now is running for a state House of Representatives seat to try and change the system.

“I don’t think my criminal history will inhibit me so much as give me the kind of perspective needed to really get some meaningful criminal justice reform going,” she said. She’s running for a seat in District 40, representing Gladstone, Oregon City, Milwaukie and parts of Clackamas.

Barbara Dickerson and Patty Youngblood are co-founders of Time Does Not Fit The Crime. Youngblood said the goal of the reform movement is to give first-offenders a chance.

Her son is doing 11 years for his crime.

“Oregon is now a ‘One strike and you’re out’ state and we used to be ‘Three strikes and you’re out,’” she told KOIN 6 News. “There are a lot of first-time offenders in there and not even for a criminal or violent act.”

Click here to read the rest of the story


Sentencing Reform is Alive and Well February 6, 2015

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Julie Stewart spoke today about sentencing reform

Sentencing reform is alive and well! This week in Congress, identical sentencing reform bills were introduced in the House and Senate that would take a bite out of mandatory minimum sentences! The bills are called The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2015. They would give the court the ability to go below the mandatory minimum sentence when that sentence is clearly excessive for the defendant.

The main sponsors of the bills are Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rand Paul (R-KY), and Representatives Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Robert Scott (D-VA). In 2012, these four men introduced the same bill, which died at the end of the last Congress. Now, they are the first to introduce a sentencing reform bill in the new Congress, which started January 1, 2015. They are committed to making sentencing laws fairer, stemming the growth of federal prison, and reducing the tax burden of unnecessary incarceration.And we love them for that!

The best way to thank them is to encourage your own Senator and Representative to support the Justice Safety Valve Act. Click here for a helpful email you can send to your Members of Congress.

It’s exciting that sentencing reform is one of the few issues in Congress that has bipartisan support!
We just have to make sure they do more than pay lip service to it! You can help by hounding your members of Congress. Don’t forget – they work for YOU!


Bill advances that would give a break to some young sex offenders May 9, 2013

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Some young offenders convicted of having sex with underage partners would be able to request the crime be removed from their records under a bill narrowly passed by the Oregon House on Wednesday.

Voting 31 to 27, the House sent the bill to the Senate with little discussion.

Under the bill, in order for adult offenders to apply to have their records erased, coercion or force could not have been used in the sex act. Other conditions include completion of all required court-ordered programs and treatments.

Proponents say the current punishment for such sex offenders does not fit the crime. Opponents say people convicted of sex crimes often reoffend and should not be able to have their records expunged.

“Individuals who commit sex offenses … this isn’t their first time and it won’t be their last,” said Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins, who opposes the bill on behalf of the Oregon District Attorneys Association.

To say an act is consensual when it involves a person who is too young to give consent is indefensible and minimizes the law, Vitolins said.

The age of consent in Oregon is 18.

For offenders to have their records cleared under the proposed law, they could be no more than five years older than the victim, and the victim must be at least 14. For sex crimes committed by a minor, the victim must be at least 12 and the age difference can be no more than three years.



Oregon commission considers easing Measure 11 sentences to spare more prison construction December 18, 2012

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The state Commission on Public Safety is scheduled to vote this afternoon on a reform package that would roll back prison sentences imposed by voters under Measure 11 and Measure 57.

The change is part of an effort to corral the growing costs of Oregon’s prison system, now costing taxpayers $1.3 billion in general fund in the current budget cycle. State officials say if nothing changes, taxpayers will have to fund add $600 million in the next 10 years to build and operate prisons to house 2,300 more inmates.

The commission is expected to consider removing mandatory sentences for three Measure 11 crimes – first-degree sex abuse, second-degree assault and second-degree robbery.  Voters approved the tougher sentences in 1984.

The commission is being urged to also modify some sentences of Measure 57, targeted at repeat property and drug offenders.

The state’s prosecutors have vigorously fought the changes.  They proposed two of their own that will be considered today – reducing the harshness of marijuana possession and distribution crimes and eliminating prison as a sanction for felony driving while suspended.

Gov. John Kitzhaber is counting on significant reforms to come from the commission. He recently proposed a 2013-2015 state budget that includes no money for new prisons and a flat prison population, currently standing at 14,000.  Corrections Department officials were anticipating opening vacant prisons in Salem and Madras and launching construction of a new prison in Junction City during the next budget cycle.

The governor instead is looking to beef up spending with counties so they can better manage those on probation and parole. He is recommending an extra $32 million for such work, but hasn’t provided details on how the money would be used.  State funding for community corrections work has eroded in recent years.

The Commission on Public Safety also is considering ways to release inmates sooner from prison if they meet certain conditions, such as completing in-prison schooling.

The commission also will considering making the Corrections Department more efficient by driving down the daily cost of an inmate from the current $82.48.

Kitzhaber is likely to support the commission’s recommendations, and then it will be the Legislature’s to chew over the reforms. Any sentencing changes likely wouldn’t take effect until next year and wouldn’t provide any reduction for inmates already convicted of the Measure 11  and Measure 47 crimes.


Group Raises Awareness For Mandatory Minimum Sentencing For Youth October 31, 2012

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On Saturday morning, about 100 Salem residents banded together at Riverfront Park in a run for justice.  “Steps for Safety and Savings” 5K run/walk was hosted by Partnership for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit that is against Oregon’s mandatory minimum sentencing law Measure 11 for youths under 18 years of age.

Organizer Cassandra Villanueva said volunteers and organizations in 20 states have similar events planned this month in an attempt to raise awareness of the issue involving incarceration of youth in adult courts.

Partnership for Safety and Justice estimated that 250,000 youth are charged, sentenced or incarcerated as adults each year nationwide. Oregon has charged 3,000 since Measure 11 was implemented in 1995.


Oregon prison puzzle: Cut costs but keep public safe October 29, 2012

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For months, 12 Oregonians have been wrestling with the mathematics of justice in Oregon — who’s going to prison, who’s falling off probation, what percentage of new inmates are “low risk” or “nonviolent.”

One number matters most: $600 million.

That’s the estimated cost to taxpayers of continued growth in Oregon’s prison population. Avoiding that means sending fewer people to prison. So how does the state contain costs yet keep citizens safer?

That’s the vexing puzzle that’s been handed to the state Commission on Public Safety. Members face a year-end deadline to offer detailed reforms to Gov. John Kitzhaber. What they come up with could affect everything from Measure 11 to marijuana sentences.

State forecasters say a growing population and tougher sentencing measures will add 2,300 people to Oregon’s inmate count in the next decade. Changing that, the data suggest, will require backing off on sentences, sparing more people from prison, and spending more to keep offenders from committing new crimes.

Commissioners have been tutored on the mind-numbing data of criminal justice.

They’ve learned:



In short: Oregon’s approach to punishment doesn’t work as well as it could.

“I’m a lock-em-up-and-throw-the-key-away guy, but when you start peeling the onion, that’s not the answer,” said Dick Withnell, a commissioner and Salem auto dealership owner.

With data-crunching behind, commissioners are now framing reforms for Kitzhaber and the 2013 Legislature to consider. But math still will drive the work. Commissioners want a clear sense of how many prison beds would be spared with each change they propose.

“And if by chance we save some money, those dollars have got to stay within the criminal justice arena,” said state Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, a commissioner.

Several commissioners said prison savings and more safety can be achieved by better monitoring felons on probation.

In 2011, judges sent 534 probationers to prison for “technical violations.” Roughly half failed to follow rules such as staying away from drugs. The other half committed new crimes that by themselves wouldn’t net prison time.

Supreme Court Justice Paul DeMuniz, chairman of the commission, said supervising a probationer costs the state $12 a day. Prison costs $85.