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Oregon Walks to Get Teens out of Adult Court October 12, 2012

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In what organizers say is the first event of its kind in the Pacific northwest, Oregon juvenile justice advocates will hold a 5K run/walk this month to publicize a campaign to channel the state’s 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds toward juvenile court.

“In 2009, my 15-year-old was convicted as an adult,” said April Rains, a board member of the Partnership for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit group that aims to make Oregon’s approach to public safety more effective and just. “I knew that he needed to be held accountable for what he did,” said Rains, a one-time victim advocate. But, “what was shocking was how little support I got for my son and my family. He was a good kid, was involved with church, loved learning, loved taking care of animals. When he was charged with this crime, it was like none of that mattered.”

Her son was charged with sex abuse I and sentenced to 75 months’ incarceration, which he’s now serving. The victim of the inappropriate touching was another family member, “so I was really seeing the situation from all sides,” said Rains, “but I couldn’t get the DAs to listen to what was best for our family.”

Rains wanted her son charged as a youth, first, so he could get treatment while being held accountable. Second, she did not want to see a felony conviction follow him around the rest of his life.

Now 19, her son has completed treatment, gotten a high school diploma and welding certifications and is in his third term of college, all while serving in a juvenile facility.

But there was no way for him to go to a juvenile judge. In 1994, Oregon voters passed Measure 11, which set minimum sentences for several serious criminal charges like robbery and murder. It applies to all defendants aged 15 and older, including indictments in adult court.

A total 975 Oregonians have served or are serving time for M11 crimes committed when they were under 18, according to October, 2012 state statistics. Under certain conditions, they are allowed like Rains’ son to serve time in a youth detention center rather than adult prison.

To help bring attention to family ordeals under Measure 11, Rains is serving as parent lead on the 5K Run/Walk for Youth Justice Awareness Month on Oct. 27 in Salem. YJAM began in October, 2008 in Missouri, founded by a mother whose 16-year-old son was convicted in adult court and committed suicide rather than face 30 years in prison. Events will be held in more than half the states this October.

Every state sets its own laws on the age of criminal responsibility, and many exclude certain serious offenses from juvenile court once the defendant is above about 14 to 17 years of age.



Meet With Your Representatives In Congress October 9, 2012

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Update from FAMM:

Congress has left Washington and won’t return to work until after the elections. That means that no federal bills or reforms will be introduced or passed until after the elections on November 6. It also means that, until then, FAMM can’t sit down face-to-face with federal lawmakers and tell them why mandatory sentencing laws must be changed in 2013.

But you can.

Now is the perfect time for you and your loved ones to meet with your representatives in Congress and ask them to support sentencing reform. There are two ways to help while your Members of Congress are at home, in a city near you:

1. Meet with them! Find your Representative and Senators in our Action Center. Then, call or write the office in your area and request a meeting. (Our Citizen Action Kit can help). Ask your representatives to oppose new mandatory minimum sentences and support reforms in the next Congress. Use these helpful tips to have a great meeting.

2. Go to a town hall meeting or campaign event! Many seats in Congress will be decided in the November elections. Current members of Congress and those who are challenging them may be having town hall meetings or campaign events. At these events, ask the candidates how they feel about mandatory minimum sentencing laws. What do they plan to do to ensure that punishments fit the crime and the individual? How will they fix overcrowding in federal prisons and reduce the high costs of long sentences for nonviolent offenders? For pointers, read our factsheet on going to a town hall meeting.

We may be in Washington, but until November 6, your home districts are where the power is. Help FAMM by meeting with your congressional representatives and attending town hall meetings and campaign events. Afterwards, call (202) 822-6700 or send me an email at mgill@famm.org to let me know how it went!

Thank you for all you do for FAMM and fairer sentencing laws!


AG Ellen Rosenblum Signals Support for Sentencing Reforms September 11, 2012

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Property and violent crime fell by 25 percent between 2000 and 2010. Yet, unless state corrections policies change, Oregon is on track to add 2,000 more prison beds over the next decade, at a cost of $600 million. That’s on top of the existing $1.4 billion corrections budget. Last Saturday, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum signaled she is prepared to back major revisions to sentencing guidelines, including those mandated by voters through Measure 11 in 1994 and Measure 57 in 2008.  “Nothing – Nothing is sacred,” Rosenblum told a statewide gathering of the Partnership for Safety and Justice in Keizer Oregon, Sept. 8.   “All of our state’s felony sentencing structure has to be on the table for review.”

Sentencing is under Review
Calling the rising costs unsustainable, Gov. Kitzhaber last year tasked Oregon’s Commission on Public Safety with reviewing sentencing policy. The commission is expected to issue recommendations towards the end of 2012, with draft legislation expected in 2013.

Research by the Pew Center for the States, found more than 50 percent of the expected rise in Oregon’s prison population would constitute people convicted of property crimes (36 percent) and drugs charges (17 percent). The same study shows that 66 percent of people imprisoned in 2011 were rated as low or medium risk, up from 55 percent in 2005.

A Focus on Prevention
Rosenblum contrasted spiraling prison spending with cuts to victims’ services. More than 20,600 requests for emergency shelter from victims of domestic violence were turned down in 2011, for example.
“We need to invest in life-saving services for victims, not only because it’s smart spending, but because it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “We need to lake a long hard look on how we’re spending our public safety dollars. Let’s begin with a focus on victims’ services, re-entry programs and substance abuse treatment.

“In my view we should all be focused on shifting our public safety spending to prevention-based strategies, such as victims’ services, addiction treatment and recovery, and re-entry programs,” she said. “After all last year 4500 inmates were released from prison. Where are they all going? Are we taking care of them and making sure they aren’t going to be back in prison in six months?
“Evidence-based law enforcement strategies, prison programs, including mental health treatment and vocational programming: We need to prepare people to succeed when they return to the community. We need to help people rejoin society and not live a lifetime on the fringe.”

Rosenblum defeated Dwight Holton in the Democratic primary election. She was appointed by Gov. Kitzhaber to serve out the term of AG John Kroger, who resigned June 29 and is now president of Reed College. Rosenblum will face Republican AG nominee, James Buchal, in the November election.

Campaign: “Stand Strong for Safety and Savings
About 60 people attended the Partnership for Safety and Justice event. The group brings together victims of crime, people who have committed crimes, and their families, to advocate for a prevention-focused approach to public safety. The group has just launched a new campaign called “Stand Strong for Safety and Savings.”  It will seek to end mandatory minimum sentences, give judges more discretion, and re-focus spending on programs that have been proved to reduce offending, such as prevention and after-prison programs.

PSJ also seeks to mandate that young people are placed in youth facilities not in adult jails. Some counties, for example, Multnomah and Clackamas, already have this policy, but in other parts of the state, youth routinely end up in adult prisons.  “We have an incredible opportunity in the next 10 months to pass historic changes to the criminal justice system, David Rogers, PSJ’s executive director, told supporters. “We could begin to see a much smarter approach to reducing victimization and crime.”

Sentences are Now 36 Percent Longer
National research by the Pew Center has looked at the costs and benefits of lengthy sentences. “Time Served: the High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms,” crunched numbers from across the country and found prison sentences have increased by 36 percent.  Longer sentences have contributed to the decline in crime during the 1990’s, the report says, and probably can be credited for between a quarter and a third of the drop.

“But criminologists and policy makers increasingly agree that we have reached a “tipping point” with incarceration, where additional imprisonment will have little if any effect on crime…
“Research clearly shows there is little return on public dollars for locking up low-risk offenders for increasingly long periods of time and, in the case of certain non-violent offenders, there is little return on locking them up at all.” The report notes that the 17 states which have cut prison sentences, also have seen crime fall.  And the researchers point out that we now have evidence-based programs that prevent and reduce criminal behavior.



FAMM Had A Busy August September 3, 2012

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Here’s an update from FAMM:

August is traditionally a very slow time in Washington D.C., especially in an election year. Members of Congress return home to meet with constituents, campaign for election, and take vacations with their families. You’d think FAMM staff could relax in August, reveling in the quiet of the city. But you’d be wrong. August is the perfect time to get the attention of congressional staffers who have time on their hands, for a change, since their bosses are home.

This August, FAMM’s government affairs counsel, Molly Gill, made a point of visiting the offices of a dozen members of Congress who serve on the House or Senate Judiciary Committees. Her purpose was to remind them of FAMM’s priorities and ask for their help. Members and their staff are busy with lots of different issues so it’s important to get in front of them as often as possible and remind them why mandatory minimum laws do not work. Molly was joined in several meetings by FAMM’s VP and general counsel, Mary Price, who also made good use of the quiet month to talk to key players at the Justice Department, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and the U.S. Judicial Conference.

All of these meetings are important for us to gather intelligence about what others are thinking and planning – and to let them know our ideas. While it’s true that most people in Washington are focused on the election, we want to be ready to hit the ground running no matter who wins.
The presidential election went into full swing in August with the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Of particular interest to me was the fact that the drug war was not mentioned in the Republican platform on crime this year but it was four years ago, as explained in this excellent article. Also, a number of the prime-time speakers who graced the stage during the three-day summit have led the way for sentencing reform in their states. Governors John Kasich (OH), Chris Christie (NJ), and Mary Fallin (OK) have all signed sentencing reform bills and made positive statements about why reform is needed.
Former governor Mike Huckabee (AR) has acknowledged that we cannot incarcerate our way out of the drug war, and U.S. Senator Rand Paul (KY) is our Republican champion in the Senate for blocking passage of mandatory minimums. So, even though the Republican platform on crime still calls for mandatory minimums, it’s clear that not every Republican is in lock-step with the platform. Check out this short YouTube video of great quotes about sentencing from some of the convention speakers.

And in case anyone needs to be reminded that sentencing reform changes lives, listen to what we’re hearing from Massachusetts. Remember, last month the Governor signed a bill into law that included many of our sentencing reforms. Scores of prisoners have been released early as a result of the reforms and now we’re feeling their love… Here’s a sampling:

FAMM is wonderful and I respect the people that are behind it, because if we didn’t have this I wouldn’t have hope to one day get my Dad home.

My family is so excited we cannot believe it. Where would we be without your efforts? We cannot thank you enough!!!!!!

This will hopefully give my loved one a 2½ year advancement on finding work and going back to college – makes a huge difference for someone that has been away from society for 8 years since the young age of 22.

Thank you again for all of your time, work and effort – you have made a tremendous contribution to the lives and spirits of those serving mandatory minimum sentences.

And that is why there are no lazy summer days at FAMM: The harder we work, the more lives we can improve. And what can be more satisfying, really?

Happy Labor Day –


Julie Stewart
FAMM President


Did you miss it? Watch the video of Julie on Stossel! August 16, 2012

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Update from FAMM:

If you missed FAMM president Julie Stewart’s July 19 appearance on the John Stossel Show on Fox Business News, you’re in luck!  Click here to watch FAMM’s fearless leader go toe-to-toe with a mandatory minimum-lovin’ former prosecutor.  I know you’ll be impressed by Julie’s excellent defense of FAMM’s position.

Following Julie’s segment at the beginning of the program, FAMM member Peter Ninemire puts a human face on the injustices of long mandatory prison sentences, and demonstrates why individualized sentencing laws are needed. Peter served 11 years of a 24 ½ year federal prison sentence for conspiracy to distribute marijuana before receiving a commutation from President Clinton in 2001. What he has done since his release from prison will motivate and inspire you.

You can also still join in the action and let John Stossel know what you think about mandatory sentencing laws. Post a message on Stossel’s Hulu.com page. Just click the “comments” button under the video player.

Enjoy the video!
Thanks for your support of FAMM.


FAMM Update August 2, 2012

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We may not have set an Olympic record, but we notched a victory, nonetheless! Massachusetts lawmakers waited until the final hours of their legislative session to pass a criminal justice bill that includes reforms to mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws that FAMM has supported for years! On August 2, Gov. Deval Patrick signed the bill into law with Barbara Dougan, FAMM’s Massachusetts project director, by his side. (Massachusetts supporters, we’ll send more information about the bill signing to you very soon.) The new law limits the state’s “school zone” law and makes some drug offenders now in prison eligible for the same reentry opportunities — parole, work release and earned good time — that are available to most other prisoners. The new law also reduces the length of some mandatory minimum sentences and increases the quantity of drugs needed to trigger certain low-level trafficking offenses. These reforms will improve sentences for about 1,500 drug offenders now in prison, plus an untold number of defendants in the years ahead, a victory indeed.

Sadly, these improvements came at a price because they were part of a bill that included provisions we opposed, an enhanced Massachusetts three-strikes law. It’s an unfortunate reality that sentencing reforms are often attached to bad bills. For example, the safety-valve for drug offenders that Congress passed in 1994 was part of an enormous crime bill that included life in prison for third nonviolent drug offenses. But I learned early on that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and sometimes we have to swallow bad legislation in order to get relief from mandatory sentencing laws. Right now it feels great to have made some progress toward fairer sentences for thousands in Massachusetts!

In Massachusetts we found allies who care about justice. But sometimes we confront adversaries who don’t seem to care if the punishment fits the crime. And for all the years I’ve been working on this issue, it still makes my blood boil. On July 19th, I appeared on the John Stossel Show on Fox Business News with Lis Wiehl, a former assistant U.S. Attorney who just adores mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Regardless of the outrageous cases I described, even that of a 24-year-old LSD offender serving life in prison without parole, she believed the sentence was justified. It’s scary to meet people who are so willing to throw away someone’s life and even scarier when they hold all the sentencing cards. If you missed this showdown between me and the AUSA, you can catch it on Hulu.com later this month.

The last days of July were spent packing up FAMM’s office as we got ready to move to our new headquarters. After 16 years at 1612 K Street, there was a lot of sorting to be done. I felt like an archaeologist unearthing shards of FAMM’s history — old photographs, letters from families, prisoners’ case summaries, bills we worked on, testimony we presented, newspaper articles about sentencing, VHS tapes of my appearances on the Donahue Show, Sally Jesse Rafael, Maury Povich (Whatever happened to Maury Povich?), and so much more. It was a fun trip down memory lane and one that reacquainted me with the many caring and dedicated people who have driven sentencing reform forward over the past 21 years. Many had loved ones in prison, or were in prison themselves, or simply recognized that something is terribly wrong with a country that incarcerates so many for so long.

Many of the old files reminded me of events FAMM has hosted over two decades — conferences in Washington D.C., press briefings, rallies on capitol steps across the country, briefings in Congress and state houses, prison art auctions, anniversary dinners, a gala for those who received commutations from President Clinton, and more. These events often combined grassroots and grasstops organizing — a FAMM hallmark and a mark of all that we’ve accomplished so far.

Sometimes it’s important to stop and smell the roses like this. But this is no time to relax. Our new office has lot of orange walls — the color of fire — and we’re ready to burn up some bad laws! Stay tuned to all the sentencing news as it happens by joining FAMM’s Facebook, Twitter, SentenceSpeak blog, and website. The Games have begun!


Sentencing Justice Update July 16, 2012

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Update from FAMM:

Last month was full of surprises and we couldn’t be happier! The first surprise came on June 21 when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with us that people who committed crack cocaine offenses before August 3, 2010, but were sentenced after that date, should be sentenced to the lower crack penalties passed in the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. The decision was music to our ears because, frankly, we weren’t sure the Court would side with us.

This is a victory for everyone who has continued to fight this issue since 1987. Congratulations to every attorney and public defender who never gave up. This decision is based on a lot of hard work in various District and Appellate courts to push for this change, as well as tireless advocacy by organizations across the country. To read the Court’s opinion in the case, Dorsey v. United States, click here.

The second big surprise from the Supreme Court arrived on June 25 when they decided that mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional! The Court said the sentences violated the Constitution’s 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Their reasoning was that children are different than adults in important respects and judges couldn’t consider the juvenile’s “chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” as well as the offender’s “family and home environment” and “the circumstances of the offense, including the extent of his participation in the conduct.” In other words, the mandatory life sentence was found to be unconstitutional because it didn’t allow a judge to sentence each person as an individual! That’s what we’ve been saying at FAMM for two decades! You can read the Court’s opinion in Miller v. Alabama here.

The last great surprise of the month came on June 26 when a Florida State judge threw out the 20-year mandatory prison sentence given to Ronald Thompson for firing two warning shots into the ground to protect his elderly friend. The judge ordered a new trial for Thompson and his immediate release from prison. This is an incredible case that highlights everything that is wrong with mandatory minimum sentences in general, and Florida’s mandatory 10-20-life sentences for gun violations, in particular. We’ve spent the last few months shining a spotlight on this law and how it is snaring people who have harmed no one yet are serving 20-year prison sentences.

You’ve got to read Ronald Thompson’s story to understand why we’re so passionate about changing this law. For Thompson, who has served three years and is 65-years-old, nearly blind, and in failing health, the chance for a new trial could be lifesaving — literally. And if the district attorney has a shred of compassion, she will not retry him. Stay tuned to see how that turns out! Until then, read the recent news reports about Thompson’s case, which frequently quote FAMM’s Florida project director, Greg Newburn, who is leaving no stone unturned in Florida as he fights to change this law!

Whether July will have as many happy surprises is yet to be seen, but who knows? The occasion of Independence Day (July 4th) is a great time for President Obama to grant “independence” to some deserving prisoners by commuting their sentences…



Sentencing Commission Priorities July 6, 2012

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Update from Julie Stewart, FAMM President:

Earlier this week, I asked you to write and tell the U.S. Sentencing Commission to make fixing the drug guidelines a priority. It sounds like many people are writing, and I’m eager to see how many letters we generate. We know, however, that a lot of our members are interested in other guideline reforms besides drugs. So, if you want to tell the Commission what you think about their non-drug proposed priorities, we urge you to do so.

First, to recap: The Commission recently announced its proposed priorities for the coming year and asked for feedback from the public. Proposed priorities are issues the Commission is thinking about working on in the upcoming years. The Commission doesn’t decide which priorities it is actually going to work on until it hears from the public. That’s where you come in. FAMM plans to submit formal comments to tell the Commission which proposed priorities it should choose to work on. If you care about any of these proposed priorities, or think that the Commission should add one, this is your chance to make sure your voice is heard.

Just because the Commission chooses to work on a particular priority, however, does not mean that the guidelines will change or that people in prison will get shorter sentences. When the Commission chooses to work on a priority, it usually takes a while — sometimes years — before the Commission makes changes, if any, to the guidelines. Even then, very few guideline changes reduce sentences, and very, very few of those are made retroactive. And remember, the Commission cannot change mandatory minimum sentences — only Congress can do that, by passing new laws.

Having said all that … below are some of the areas and activities the Sentencing Commission proposes to pursue this year. If you feel strongly about one or more, you should write and ask the Commission to make them a priority and work on them. Your letters can increase the odds that the Commission will work on the priorities you care about.

The Commission listed nine tentative priorities. Here are the ones we think you might be especially interested in, and some ideas for what to tell the Commission:

Commission Priority 1: Work with Congress and others to follow the recommendations the Commission made about statutory mandatory minimums. Last year, the Commission wrote a report on mandatory minimum laws and proposed a number of positive changes, such as broadening the safety valve, making gun mandatory minimums less severe, and reducing the severity of non-contact child pornography offenses. On the other hand, it also suggested that Congress consider legislation to make it more difficult for judges to disagree with the guidelines, which are now completely advisory.
Possible comment: I strongly oppose mandatory minimum sentencing laws and therefore support proposals to repeal and reform those laws. In its 2011 report on mandatory minimums, the Commission recommended amendments to the federal safety valve so that judges would have discretion to give more offenders appropriate sentences. If mandatory minimums cannot be repealed outright, the safety valve should be expanded.
Commission Priority 2: In the wake of United States v. Booker, continue to study sentences and issue a report possibly recommending that Congress pass laws governing the guidelines.
Possible comment: I do not think Congress or the Commission can foresee the unique circumstances of every case. Therefore, I think courts should have the discretion to depart from the sentencing guidelines, if it is appropriate after reviewing the facts and circumstances of an individual’s case. I urge the Commission to oppose legislation that would eliminate or limit this discretion by making the guidelines mandatory or by making it easier for appeals courts to second-guess sentencing judges’ decisions.
Commission Priority 3: The Commission plans to conclude its review of child pornography offenses and issue a report and possibly recommendations to Congress. Sentences for these offenses have skyrocketed over the past 15 years, driven mostly by Congress and not by empirical evidence. In recent years, many judges have shortened sentences in these cases, when possible.
Possible comment: I support the Commission’s comprehensive study of the guidelines in this area. Sentences for child pornography-related offenses have skyrocketed over the past 15 years. These increases were driven mostly by Congress and not by empirical evidence. Over the past several years, judges have begun departing from the guidelines at an increasing rate, because they know that not all offenders are equally culpable and therefore do not deserve the harsh, one-size-fits-all sentences that usually apply.
Commission Priority 4: The Commission plans to continue its review of the sentences for economic crimes, especially sentences that come from application of the fraud guideline. The Commission may consider amending the guidelines in this area. Currently, calculations using the fraud guideline give too much weight to a single factor – the amount of loss – that doesn’t reflect an offender’s actual culpability. That guideline also has overlapping, redundant enhancements that can drive sentences very high.
Possible comment: I support the Commission’s review of the fraud guideline. Currently, calculations using the fraud guideline give too much weight to a single factor – the amount of loss – that doesn’t reflect an offender’s actual culpability. I am also concerned that the current fraud guideline contains overlapping sentencing enhancements that drive up sentences for even ordinary fraud offenses.
There are more proposals, including studies of the definition of “crime of violence” and new recidivism work. You can find the complete list here.

If you want to comment on any proposed priority, or if you want to suggest additional priorities, write a letter to the Commission. Here are some tips:
When you submit your comments on the proposed priorities, be sure to refer to the priority number so that the commissioners record your views properly.
Tell the Commission why you care; share your personal experiences to the extent you feel comfortable. Your (or your family’s) stories are more powerful than anything else the Commission will hear.
Be direct but respectful. Commission staff read all the letters they receive.
The salutation can read: “Dear Judge Saris,” because Judge Patti Saris chairs the Sentencing Commission.
Address your letter as follows:

United States Sentencing Commission
Attn: Public Affairs – Priorities Comment
One Columbus Ave, NE
Suite 2-500, South Lobby
Washington, DC 20002-8002

You can also email your letter to pubaffairs@ussc.gov.

Please remember that your comments must be received by the Commission on or before July 23.

Thank you so much for your help. It is so important for us get our message to the people with the power to make a difference.


FAMM Victory at the U.S. Supreme Court June 21, 2012

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Here’s an update from Julie Stewart, FAMM President

Great news! Today, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to end the 100:1 disparity in crack cocaine sentencing once and for all! In Dorsey v. United States (No. 11-5683) the Court ruled that everyone sentenced for crack cocaine offenses after the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (FSA) gets the benefit of the new lower sentences the law created.

You may remember that crack cocaine defendants used to be sentenced under a 100:1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine. Congress changed the ratio to 18:1 when it passed the Fair Sentencing Act and on August 3, 2010, the FSA was signed into law.

Immediately, there was confusion about whether people who had committed a crack offense before that date but had not yet been sentenced were eligible to be sentenced under the lower ratio. This became known as the “pipeline” problem.

FAMM joined a brief to persuade the Court to rule the way they did and we’re thrilled that today’s terrific opinion means that “pipeline prisoners” (people who were sentenced after August 3, 2010 to an old crack sentence) will be entitled to ask the court for relief. We don’t know exactly how that will take place but those details will be forthcoming. In the meantime, celebrate this victory and if you know a “pipeline prisoner,” encourage that person to contact their attorney.

Savor the moment and stay connected to FAMM. Working together, we can make a difference!


FAMM Briefs April 30, 2012

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