Friday, September 20, 2013

FAMM Has a New Blog!

Check out the new and improved SentenceSpeak blog (along with our new website) at famm.org/blog.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Danbury Switches Genders

For federal prisoners and their loved ones, we think it's important to mention a big change happening in the federal prison system:  the female FCI Danbury prison will be switching genders and housing men.

Federal prison expert and FAMM friend Todd Bussert has the scoop at his excellent blog on Bureau of Prison (BOP) issues:
As discussed here, the BOP recently announced its intention to re-mission FCI Danbury from a women’s facility to a men’s low-security institution. The Hartford Courant reports that on Friday a group of senators from Connecticut (Blumenthal and Murphy), New York (Schumer and Gillibrand), Massachusetts (Warren and Markey), Vermont (Leahy and Sanders), New Hampshire (Shaheen), Maine (King) and Pennsylvania (Casey) wrote the Bureau of Prisons in an effort to prevent the move. According to the Courant, the senators contend that “the federal Corrections Institute at Danbury … is located along a densely populated urban corridor and a significant number of the inmates are from the surrounding states. Danbury is only 60 miles from Hartford, 70 miles from New York City, and 150 miles from Boston. It is easily accessible by public transportation, train, and car.” They add:

"The transfer would dramatically disrupt the lives of these female inmates, many of whom are from the Northeast […] and place them out of reach of their families and loved ones.[…] We understand that the small percentage of women inmates in the federal system means that many women will be incarcerated very far from home. Given BOP’s commitment to maintaining family contact, the goal should be to have as many inmates as close as possible to their home[.]"
Through its spokesman, the Bureau of Prisons responded that it has “an immediate need for low-security male bed space,” and that the closet federal prison for female low-security prisoners is in West Virginia (i.e., the Hazelton (WV) Secure Female Facility (SFF)).
The switch could mean that the women at Danbury get moved even further from their homes, children, and families -- which could mean fewer visits and a tougher time heading back home and reentering their communities at the end of their sentences.

This is just one more example of the DOJ's prison overcrowding crisis, which can be blamed largely on mandatory minimum sentences.  There is no more room at the inn, folks!  It's time to do something about it, which is why Senators Paul and Leahy are having a hearing on mandatory minimum sentences in September. We need to stop sending so many people to prison for so, so long. Judges need flexibility in sentencing so that they can save those scarce prison resources for the most dangerous and violent offenders.

You can tell your U.S. Senators to support sentencing reform through our Action August campaign. Mandatory minimum sentencing reform is a meaningful solution to prison overcrowding at the BOP. Don't know how to have a meeting with your U.S. Senators? Tune in to FAMM's Facebook page this Friday, August 9, at 12:00 noon EST to ask questions and get answers!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Nonviolent offenders obeyed state laws, went to jail anyway

That's the titled of this excellent piece by Robby Soave over at the Daily Caller. It quotes FAMM's Molly Gill and explores the cases of two FAMM members serving long prison terms for nonviolent drug offenses, Sharanda Jones and Jack Carpenter:

Sharanda Jones never considered herself a criminal mastermind. Her job was just buying the cocaine powder; other members of the organization rendered it into crack cocaine and sold it. Jones owned a gun — for self-protection — but never used it. And yet Jones, a nonviolent drug purchaser, is serving life without parole — at a cost to the taxpayers of over a million dollars.
Jack Carpenter was a California resident who grew marijuana for personal, medicinal use. Eventually, he expanded his operation and began growing marijuana to sell to dispensaries that then sold to patients–as permitted under state law. But under federal law, Carpenter’s actions were illegal. After he was convicted in 2010, mandatory minimums bumped his sentence up to 10 years.
Soave also discusses the growing conservative support for sentencing reform, pointing to the current system's exorbitant cost to taxpayers and concerns about overfederalization and overcriminalization:
Mandatory minimums are an increasing concern for conservatives as well. For one thing, the cost to incarcerate nonviolent offenders is simply too high. “One out of every four Department of Justice dollars is locking up nonviolent drug offenders,” said Gill. “Half the prison population is nonviolent drug offenders.”
You can read the rest here.

Friday, August 2, 2013

When it comes to fairer sentences, "there are no costs, only benefits"

Check out this excellent editorial from The New York Times: Sentencing Reform Starts to Pay Off. Here are a couple excerpts (but really, you should just go read the editorial):

According to a preliminary report released by the commission, more than 7,300 federal prisoners have had their sentences shortened under the law. The average reduction is 29 months, meaning that over all, offenders are serving roughly 16,000 years fewer than they otherwise would have. And since the federal government spends about $30,000 per year to house an inmate, this reduction alone is worth nearly half-a-billion dollars.
That's right, thanks to the retroactive application of the fairer federal crack cocaine sentencing guidelines, 7,300 people are collectively serving 16,000 fewer years in prison, saving taxpayers half a billion dollars, all at no cost to public safety.
Federal judges nationwide have long expressed vigorous disagreement with both the sentencing disparity and the mandatory minimum sentences they are forced to impose, both of which have been drivers of our bloated federal prison system. But two bipartisan bills in Congress now propose a cheaper and more humane approach. It would include reducing mandatory minimums, giving judges more flexibility to sentence below those minimums, and making more inmates eligible for reductions to their sentences under the new ratio.
Feeling inspired? Good! August is the perfect month to take action -- visit your lawmakers while they are in their home states and tell them they should support sentencing reform!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summer Camp ... In Prison?

At a time when a lot of parents are sending their kids off to summer camp (or bringing them home from camp), this moving and important video from the Washington Post highlights quite an unusual summer camp experience:  visiting Dad in prison for a week.

This video should be shared with any parent who thinks prison time is just a "slap on the wrist," or that prisons are just comfort lodges with too much cable TV and air conditioning. If this video doesn't move them, they probably don't have a pulse.

And if you have a child with a parent in prison, check out this resource from Sesame Street to help your children deal.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Half a Billion Saved, at No Cost to Public Safety

The U.S. Sentencing Commission’s latest Preliminary Crack Retroactivity Data report has some facts and figures that should wow us all:  more than 7,200 federal prisoners got sentence reductions based on the Commission's changes to crack cocaine sentencing guidelines in 2011.  The average sentence reduction:  29 months.  The average annual cost of locking up a federal prisoner:  about $28,000.

What taxpayers saved because of better justice:  half a billion dollars.

That's billion with a "B."  As in, b-b-b-billion.  Yowza!

And what did giving fairer, Congress-approved crack sentences do to public safety?  Nada.  Violent crime kept on dropping.  The rate of reoffending by a beneficiary of the retroactive crack guidelines?  About the same as everybody else.

There were a few who threatened the end of public safety as we knew it if crack cocaine sentencing changes were made retroactive.  Their threats haven't panned out.

America, we're doing fine on crime, even with sentencing reforms -- in fact, we're doing better on crime because of sentencing reforms.  This is what smart reform is all about:  sentencing reform can save us money and keep us safe -- and actually make us safer, because we're reserving our prison dollars and resources for the most dangerous offenders.

Enjoy that extra half a billion, America.  You're gonna need it.

Action August is (almost) here!

Washington, D.C. turns into a ghost town in August because your senators and members of Congress leave town and return to their home states until September 6. While the FAMM staff stays busy here in the Capitol, we're asking you to get busy in your hometowns.

We're announcing the first annual Action August! Your participation could net you some bragging rights, a photo on our Facebook page, and a mention on our soon-to-be-unveiled new website!

Here's how to win:

1. Meet with at least one of your three federal lawmakers (or their staffs) -- and make sure you bring a camera.

  • Who are your lawmakers? Click here to find out.
  • How do I set up a meeting? Click here to get the details.
  • What do I say at the meeting? Click here for suggestions.
  • What do I give the lawmaker or his staff? Leave them this!
2. Take a photo of you and the senator/congressperson or staff member you meet with, and then send it to FAMM in one of these three ways:
3. Get 3 of your friends to join FAMM's email list. Here's where they sign up. When they do, make sure your friends put your name and the words "Action August" in the Comments section, so we know who sent them!

Complete ALL three steps, and we'll mention you on our new website! You've got until September 6 to complete this mission. Start today by finding out who your lawmakers are and where their nearest office is in your area.

Got even more questions about meeting with your members of Congress? Visit our Facebook page this Friday, August 2 at 12:00 p.m. EST for our Friday Facebook Forum, and FAMM's Molly Gill will answer your questions.

Congress may leave Washington in August, but we don't. So, we're counting on you to make sure FAMM's message follows them home: everyone deserves a punishment that fits the crime and the offender, not a one-size-fits-all mandatory minimum sentence!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chairman Leahy Orders Hearing on Justice Safety Valve Act

Yesterday, U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced that the Committee will have a hearing on the Justice Safety Valve Act, S. 619, and mandatory minimum sentences in September 2013. Chairman Leahy and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act earlier this year. An identical version, H.R. 1695, has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY). FAMM supports both bills and applauds Chairman Leahy for making mandatory minimum sentencing reform a top priority in the Senate Judiciary Committee this Congress. Chairman Leahy said the following:

A major factor driving the increase in the incarceration rate has been the proliferation of Federal mandatory minimum sentences in the last 20 years. This one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing never made us safer, but it has cost us plenty.
Read Chairman Leahy's press release and statement.

Here at FAMM's office, Molly Gill (Government Affairs Counsel) reacted to the announcement: 
As case after case shows, mandatory minimum sentences are producing absurd results and locking up nonviolent people who aren’t a threat to public safety and cost taxpayers a fortune. Chairman Leahy’s Justice Safety Valve Act would allow judges to use common sense and save tough prison sentences for the people we fear the most. These kinds of cost-cutting reforms are gaining steam all over the United States, and it’s time for Congress to get on that train.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Fifteen Years for Seven Shotgun Shells?!

FAMM’s Mary Price has a thought-provoking piece over at Main Justice that is definitely worth a read. In it, she examines the Department of Justice’s recent (and promising) letter to the U.S. Sentencing Commission in light of the prosecution and sentencing of Edward Young, a father of four serving 15 years in prison for possessing seven shotgun shells.

In the blink of an eye, Mr. Young, a penny-ante local burglar was transformed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office into a federal armed career felon … A federal sentence that would likely not have exceeded 16 months under the federal Sentencing Guidelines became 180 months by dint of the ACCA mandatory minimum.
Read on: Over-Incarceration and the Prosecution of Edward Young.