Monday, October 4, 2010

Who's Working for Justice Now?

What do prescription drugs, Florida, and long mandatory minimum sentences all have in common?

FAMM, that's what.  We're targeting that state's draconian (25 years!) sentences for trafficking prescription drugs.  This New York Times article gives just one example of how cracking down on illegal pharmacies and prescriptions is having all kinds of unexpected consequences around the country.  In the article, a man goes without his pain medication for a weekend because a nursing home doesn't have a doctor on hand to write a prescription and is afraid to call one in without it.  In Florida, we've heard stories of people getting 15- and 25-year mandatory minimum sentences for being addicted to painkillers that were once legitimately prescribed or for using another person's painkillers to attempt suicide.  Mandatory minimums, of course, don't allow courts to make distinctions in these kinds of exceptional cases.

Deborah Fleischaker directs state legislative affairs for FAMM and is working to get rid of Florida's mandatory minimums for prescription drug crimes.  She took a few minutes to tell us what drives her:

Why do you work for FAMM?
Deborah:  I work for FAMM because I believe that each one of us has a responsibility to make our society better.  There are many ways to do this, but I choose to focus on making our criminal justice system more rational, more fair, and more humane.

What does a day in your life at FAMM look like?
Deborah:  Every day looks different, which is part of what I love about my job.  I speak with members, I plan legislative strategy, I learn about sentencing reforms across the country, and I meet with policymakers.  Each part of my job is different, and each is interesting in its own way.

What is your favorite part of your job?
Deborah:  Winning!  There is nothing like seeing the hard work of so many people pay off with a legislative accomplishment.  Just knowing that I’ve helped make the laws fairer for thousands of people is incredibly rewarding.

What's the most difficult part?
Deborah:  Talking to the family members of people caught up in the criminal justice system.  There is so much pain and so much unfairness and I wish there was more that we could do.

What don't most people know about sentencing reform, but should?
Deborah:  I wish people understood how moved legislators are by personal contact from their constituents.  It may be scary to write and call legislators, particularly if you have never been politically active before, but it really makes a difference!