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

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , 2 comments

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.

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

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , 1 comment so far

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.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE

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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.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE

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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!

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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.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE

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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

Julie Stewart
FAMM President

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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.

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FAMM Update August 2, 2012

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , 1 comment so far

HERE’S AN UPDATE FROM JULIE STEWART:

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!

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7 Timeless Thoughts on Taking Responsibility for Your Life July 18, 2012

Posted by FairSentencing in : Moving Forward , add a comment

“Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will – his personal responsibility.”
Albert Einstein

“It is a painful thing to look at your own trouble and know that you yourself and no one else has made it.”
Sophocles

“A sign of wisdom and maturity is when you come to terms with the realization that your decisions cause your rewards and consequences. You are responsible for your life, and your ultimate success depends on the choices you make.”
Denis Waitley

What is one of the most boring and tiresome words ever?

Like discipline, responsibility is one of those words you have probably heard so many times from authority figures that you’ve developed a bit of an allergy to it. Still, it’s one of the most important things to grow and to feel good about your life. Without it as a foundation nothing else here or in any personal development book really works.

So today I’d like to explore personal responsibility with the help from some timeless thoughts on the topic.

1. There is always a price to pay.

“Freedom is the will to be responsible to ourselves”
Friedrich Nietzsche

“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”
George Bernard Shaw

“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.”
Unknown

Not taking responsibility may be less demanding, less painful and mean less time spent in the unknown. It’s more comfortable. You can just take it easy and blame problems in your life on someone else. But there is always a price to pay. When you don’t take responsibility for your life you give away your personal power. Plus more…

2. Build your self-esteem.

“Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the high road to pride, self-esteem and personal satisfaction.”
Brian Tracy

“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.”
Joan Didion

Why do people often have self-esteem problems? I’d say that one of the big reasons is that they don’t take responsibility for their lives. Instead someone else is blamed for the bad things that happen and a victim mentality is created and empowered.

This damages many vital parts in your life. Stuff like relationships, ambitions and achievements.

That hurt will not stop until you wise up and take responsibility for your life. There is really no way around it.

And the difference is really remarkable. Just try it out. You feel so much better about yourself even if you only take personal responsibility for your own life for day.

This is also a way to stop relying on external validation like praise from other people to feel good about yourself. Instead you start building a stability within and a sort of inner spring that fuels your life with positive emotions no matter what other people say or do around you. Which brings us to the next reason to take personal responsibility…

3. Give yourself the permission to live the life you want.

“When we have begun to take charge of our lives, to own ourselves, there is no longer any need to ask permission of someone.”
George O’Neil

By taking responsibility for our lives we not only gain control of what happens. It also becomes natural to feel like you deserve more in life as your self-esteem builds and as you do the right thing more consistently. You feel better about yourself.

This is critically important.

Because it’s most often you that are standing in your own way and in the way of your success. It’s you that start to self-sabotage or hold yourself back in subtle or not so subtle ways once you are on your way to the success you dream of.

To remove that inner resistance you must feel and think that you actually deserve what you want. You may be able to do a little about that by affirmations and other positive techniques. But the biggest impact by far comes from taking responsibility for yourself and your life. By doing the right thing.

4. Taking action becomes natural.

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It is often said that your thoughts become your actions. But without taking responsibility for your life those thoughts often just stay on that mental stage and aren’t translated into action. Taking responsibility for your life is that extra ingredient that makes taking action more of a natural thing. You don’t get stuck in just thinking, thinking and wishing so much. You become proactive instead of passive.

5. Understand the limits of your responsibility.

“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.”
Epictetus

Taking responsibility for your life is great. But that is also all that you have control over. You can’t control the results of your actions. You can’t control how someone reacts to what you say or what you do.

It’s important to know where your limits are. Otherwise you’ll create a lot unnecessary suffering for yourself and waste energy and focus by taking responsibility for what you can’t and never really could control.

You can read more about this liberating mindset in One Timeless Tip That Can Make Your Life a Whole Lot Easier.

6. Don’t forget to take responsibility in everyday life too.

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”
Helen Keller

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
Abraham Lincoln

Life consists of each day. Not just the big events sometime in the future. So don’t forget to take responsibility for the little things today too. Don’t postpone it. Taking responsibility for your life can be hard and taxing on you. It’s not something you master over the weekend. So you might as well get started with the it right now.

7. Aim to be your best self.

“Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody expects of you. Never excuse yourself.”
Henry Ward Beecher

“Peak performance begins with your taking complete responsibility for your life and everything that happens to you.”
Brian Tracy

This is of course not easy. But it’s a lot of fun and the payoff is massive.
You are not trying to escape from your life anymore. Instead you take control, face what’s going on and so the world and new options open up for you.
You start taking action not just when you feel like it. Improvement isn’t about short spurts once in a while. Consistent action is what really pays off and can help you achieve just about anything.
You build your self-esteem to higher levels. And may discover that many smaller problems you experience regularly such as negative thinking, self-defeating behaviour and troubled relationships with yourself and others start to correct themselves as your self-esteem improves. You gain an inner stability and can create your own positive feelings within without the help of validation from other people.

So how do you take responsibility?

Well, it’s simply choice that you have to make.

Reviewing the reasons above – and now also the awesome quotes – is for me a powerful way to keep myself in line. Though it doesn’t always work. Doing the right thing in every situation is hard to do and also hard to always keep in mind. So don’t aim for perfection. Just try to be as good a person as you can be right now.

When you know those very important reasons above it becomes a lot easier to stick with taking responsibility. And to not rationalize to yourself that you didn’t really have to take responsibility in various situations. That doesn’t mean that I beat myself up endlessly about it. I just observe that I have hurt myself and my life. And that doesn’t feel good. And so I become less prone to repeat the same mistake.

Click here to learn more

 

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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…

 

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