Wednesday, February 29, 2012

From Predator to Protector

This moving article from The New York Times shows how Alzheimer's disease doesn't stop at prison walls -- and can be an unexpected means of generating compassion and transformation among prisoners.

Caring for elderly inmates (even those who don't have dementia) is expensive, and some prisons have started assigning healthy prisoners to care for and protect prisoners with dementia. The job, one prisoner says, turned him from a predator into a protector.

While this apparently transformative work is laudable, the whole article begs the question:  why are elderly prisoners with Alzheimer's locked up anyway? Prison officials are trying to make lemonade out of lemons by giving caretaking jobs to prisoners, but we should question the excessive and mandatory prison sentences that are producing these expensive and unintended consequences:

Dementia in prison is an underreported but fast-growing phenomenon, one that many prisons are desperately unprepared to handle. It is an unforeseen consequence of get-tough-on-crime policies — long sentences that have created a large population of aging prisoners. About 10 percent of the 1.6 million inmates in America’s prisons are serving life sentences; another 11 percent are serving over 20 years.
And more older people are being sent to prison. In 2010, 9,560 people 55 and older were sentenced, more than twice as many as in 1995. In that same period, inmates 55 and older almost quadrupled, to nearly 125,000, a Human Rights Watch report found.
While no one has counted cognitively impaired inmates, experts say that prisoners appear more prone to dementia than the general population because they often have more risk factors: limited education, hypertension, diabetes, smoking, depression, substance abuse, even head injuries from fights and other violence. ...
Alzheimer’s currently affects 5.4 million Americans, a number expected to double by 2040. Experts believe that Alzheimer’s disease in prisons could grow two or three times as fast, said John Wilson, senior clinical operations specialist for MHM, because “protective factors that might mitigate developing dementia are slim to none in prison — things like complex jobs, rich social environment, leisure activities.”

Friday, February 24, 2012

Good and Mad Reading for the Weekend

An important new report from an interesting coalition of advocates (faith-based groups and a think tank) provides a dire picture of West Virginia's need for state sentencing reforms.  Here's the skinny, from an AP article:
Some recommendations in the report released Wednesday by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy match proposals in an omnibus bill moving through the Legislature. The bill aims to reduce the prison population and ease the burden on regional jails that now house almost 1,700 convicted felons who should be serving their sentence in state prison.

The center worked with The Partnership of African American Churches and The American Friends Service Committee's West Virginia Economic Justice Project to draft the review of the state's prison and jail system. All three organizations work to improve the lives of low-income West Virginians.

West Virginia spent a greater share of its general fund revenue on corrections than 48 other states during the last two decades. Only Wisconsin spent a greater share of its tax revenue on corrections, according to the report.

That figure shocked West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy executive director Ted Boettner.

"We're not having a discussion of the costs here. We never ask how much is this going to cost the state every time we pass a bill to increase sentencing for non-violent offenders," Boettner said.

Drug abuse is driving the overflow in the jails and prisons in the state. Lawmakers want to avoid building another $200 million prison to ease the overcrowding.
The report's recommendations include reforming mandatory minimum sentences.  But Boettner's point is excellent: lawmakers are often tempted to hike up sentences, creating excessive penalties in the heat of the moment and in the crush to look "tough on crime." Costs (both human and fiscal) are what get forgotten.

Nationwide, it's time for lawmakers to reassess the system we've built, what it's costing us, and whether we are getting lasting value from our sentencing choices.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Senator Paul Fights for Just Sentencing

Senator Rand Paul (D-KY) is taking a heroic stand against new federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws right now, and it’s just further proof that the old saying is true:  “What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.”

Senator Paul is taking scalding criticism from voters, the media, and other members of Congress for his principled opposition to harsh federal sentencing laws for so-called “synthetic drugs” – especially because 39 states have already passed their own laws to make these new drugs illegal.  FAMM opposes the federal legislation because scheduling the chemicals associated with synthetic drugs would trigger a new mandatory minimum in cases in which drug use results in serious bodily injury or death.

Take this article, for example, in which voters and members of Congress all but accuse Senator Paul of killing innocent children. Hmmm…where have we heard this kind of “soft on crime” name-blackening before? It usually attaches to anyone who opposes mandatory minimum sentences for whatever new drug is scaring legislators at the moment. What’s sad is that the attacks use virtually the same language members of Congress were throwing around 30 years ago, when they created our current draconian mandatory minimum drug laws. And look where that got us:  overstuffed, expensive federal prisons full of nonviolent drug offenders serving decades for low-level crimes.

The proposed mandatory minimums Senator Paul is opposing are found in three bills:  S. 409, the Combating Dangerous Synthetic Stimulants Act of 2011; S. 605, the Dangerous Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011; and S. 839, the Combating Dangerous Drugs Act of 2011.

The proposed legislation would place a number of synthetic drugs – chemical compounds that imitate the effects of other illegal drugs – into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812(c)). Under current law, a person convicted of an offense involving any quantity of a schedule I or II controlled substance, other than flunitrazepam, ordinarily is subject to up to 20 years in prison (see 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C)). But “if death or serious bodily injury results from the use of such substance,” the defendant gets a 20-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, without parole.

And considering that it seems that synthetic drugs are both popular among young people and good at causing serious bodily injury, that could mean stupid kids facing 20-year mandatory prison sentences for giving or selling the drugs to their friends.

Is that a wise use of federal prison space and taxpayer dollars? Will this actually stop these drugs from reaching our kids? Mandatory minimums don’t deter drug abuse and drug trafficking, but have succeeded in filling federal (and state) prisons beyond capacity – costing us a fortune. 

Senator Paul doesn’t want to endanger our kids. He doesn’t want to let drug offenders off the hook. He does think that Congress should not pass laws with "disproportionate" federal penalties that leave too little sentencing discretion for judges.

Senator Paul, we stand with you.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Getting Beyond Easy-Answer Justice in Massachusetts

Former federal judge Nancy Gertner makes a spot-on argument against Massachusetts' "Melissa's Bill," a proposed three-strikes bill to amend the state's habitual offender law, currently under consideration.  Here's how the bill came about, and how Gertner debunks the soundbites that led to its creation:
[T]he murder of Melissa Gosule - horrible as it was - does not justify the “three strikes and you’re out’’ bill that state lawmakers are considering. “Melissa’s bill,’’ as it is called, is supposedly aimed at keeping the most dangerous repeat offenders behind bars, without the possibility of parole. Its backers insist the bill is designed only for the worst of the worst, the habitually violent offenders presumably like Michael Gentile, the man convicted of Melissa’s murder.
What few are saying, however, is that Gentile’s record did not fit the “worst of the worst’’ profile. He had a non-violent adult record - petty larcenies, breaking and entering, marijuana possession, disorderly conduct, trespassing, and shoplifting - and the dispositions imposed by the various courts reflected the petty nature of the crimes. Should the judge who had Gentile before him on the second disorderly conduct charge, or the second trespassing charge, have thrown the book at him? Should the judge who sentenced Gentile for breaking and entering and larceny have given him more than two years in prison, when that was his first incarceration? In fact, nothing about his criminal record would have predicted that he was capable of murder. 
Three strikes laws are a bit like a house of cards. It looks good -- maybe even stable and sensible -- until you try to move the pieces around. What about offenders like Gentile, who commit truly unforeseeable crimes? What about other unexpected cases, where special exceptions should apply? Gertner correctly explains that there are no "easy answers" -- which is what a mandatory minimum always masquerades as -- to our public safety concerns:
We have to ask the hard questions: What combination of punishment along with drug treatment, reentry programs, and intensive supervision will deter someone like Gentile? The answer is not jail, jail, and more jail - not if we want to have the resources for the policies that we know are effective.
We have to reserve prisons and scarce correctional resources for the most violent. We need to be not just tough on crime, but smart about it. Putting a name on a bill - even a name that reminds us of a thoroughly despicable crime - is no substitute for real reform.

The South Leads the Way sentencing reform, apparently.  Yes, you read that correctly. 

This story from IPS discusses how states are finally confronting exploding prison populations and costs, including discussing much-needed reforms to mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
A recent report by the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) outlines some of the changes already taken by some states.

For example, Alabama, Colorado, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have reduced or eliminated jail or prison time for parole and probation violations, opting instead for stricter supervision and alternative sentences like community service, according to SCHR.

Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee have all created alternative sentencing options for low-level, low-risk offenders, such as parole and probation.

Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas have attempted to reduce recidivism, that is, people returning to prison, by stronger emphasis on reentry planning that is tailored to meet individuals' needs.

In addition, South Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee have removed minimum sentencing requirements for certain drug-related violations.
That list of southern state reforms is a movement away from that region's reputation as the home of chain gangs and Hollywood-worthy excessive punishments.  Let's hope the trend gains momentum and spreads.

Read the SCHR's report on how Georgia can join the movement here (ditching mandatory minimum sentencing laws is one of its recommendations for Governor Nathan Deal and the state legislature, a recommendation we, of course, support!).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Don't Throw Away the Key

That's the message of this editorial from the Washington Post today, and it lauds the Department of Justice for some positive statements it made in its recent budget proposal.  (To get FAMM's full take on the budget, click here.)  Writes the Post:

The Justice Department, too, is embracing reforms to reduce the number of federal nonviolent offenders who are placed behind bars and to better ensure smooth transitions for those who are imprisoned and released. In its recent budget request – which kept Justice funds essentially flat – the department signaled it would be more assertive in urging courts to offer “compassionate release” to seriously ill inmates. The department should use this legal authority also to urge freedom for the growing ranks of elderly prisoners who no longer pose a risk. ... [T]he department smartly requested small funding bumps for drug rehabilitation programs that have proven helpful in giving drug-addicted inmates a chance at successful re-entry.
The DOJ's expression of these good intentions in its budget doesn't mean everyone's going to get compassionate release now, or that everyone will be able to get the full benefit of the Bureau of Prisons' in-depth Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP -- which, if successfully completed, gives prisoners up to a year off of their federal prison sentences), but even the expression of good intentions is, well, good news.

The states are saving money, reducing crime, and shutting down prisons left and right.  The federal government should get in on the action.  Here's a list of some of the ways Uncle Sam can save some money on prisons.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Good and Mad Reading for the Weekend

If ever there's been an indictment of private prisons, it's this stimulating article from The Atlantic, published earlier this month.

The high -- er, low -- lights:  private prisons aren't cheaper, run better, or even necessary in many places.
... like the real estate market crash of the last ten years, the belief that the incarceration market was recession-proof and could only rise is being proved wrong. Declining crime rates are leaving more prisons empty. There isn't enough crime to keep the prison industry afloat as it currently stands.
Ummm, this is a good thing, yes? Less crime, lower incarceration needs and costs -- isn't that what the criminal justice system is supposed to be achieving? Isn't the system supposed to be working itself out of a job?

Yes, but there are plenty who don't like it -- including the prison employees and small towns losing jobs and income because of now-empty facilities.

While I sympathize with those suffering hardship, it is a limited sympathy. I'm with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on this issue: "an incarceration program is not an employment program." When prison time is necessary to keep us safe, when it's the best punishment for society and the offender, and when judges have the freedom to decide how much of it is right for each individual offender, I have no qualms about incarceration. But I'll never be for prisons just for their own sake ... or because they give people jobs.

-- Stowe

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Good News about Released Prisoners

Kudos to St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan for sharing a story we need to hear more often:  people getting out of prison and making progress with their lives.  So often, we only hear the horror stories of people who get out and commit more crimes -- when, in fact, a lot of former prisoners remain law-abiding.  For some reason, those people just don't get the press coverage they should.

There are lots of heroes in McClellan's heart-warming column, which shows how we can all work together to ensure that sentence-reducing reforms help those being released and, in turn, keep our communities safe:
Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. That act reduced — but did not eliminate — the disparity between sentences for crack and powder cocaine. The law also eliminated the mandatory minimum sentence of five years for possession of crack cocaine.
The law was to become retroactive as of November 2011.
Hundreds of inmates were about to be freed.
Lisa White is a probation officer in the U.S. Probation Office in the Eastern District of Missouri. She wondered how the people released would do.
Many had been locked up for years. Few had much education. Many had little or no experience in the working world. Many had histories of drug abuse. Few had been enrolled in the programs offered by the Bureau of Prisons for inmates approaching release.
Because they had done their time, they weren't being sent to halfway houses and the structure they provide. Instead, they were just going to be let go.
It seemed a formula for disaster.
Last summer, she talked to her colleague, Clark Porter, a community resources specialist in the office. Could he help her devise a program for the releasees who would be under the supervision of their office? Sure, he said.
They checked with their boss, Chief Probation Officer Douglas Burris. He thought it was a great idea.
[Former prisoner Mark] Geralds was released in early November.
The week after he arrived in St. Louis, he joined 17 others — 15 other men and two women — in the program set up by White and Porter. They met twice a week. It was a crash course in how to make it on the outside, how to find work, what resources were available.
They had a graduation ceremony Thursday at the federal courthouse. White and Porter talked about how impressed they had been with the releasees' determination. ...
Geralds has been accepted into a pre-apprentice program with an ironworkers union. Several of the releasees have already found work. Two have enrolled in community college.
Chief Judge Catherine Perry spoke. We want you to succeed, she said. Everybody in this building is pulling for you, she said.
It was a turnaround of sorts for Geralds. Perry was the judge who sentenced him in 1996.

Canadians, Guns, and Men in Underwear

Yes, this interesting article from the Calgary Herald involves all three.  
This week, Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Malloy bravely threw down the gauntlet when she refused to sentence 27-year-old Leroy Smickle to the minimum three years in prison for the "crime" of posing for his own Facebook photo, alone in his apartment late at night in his underwear, holding a gun. Malloy, who gave Smickle a one-year sentence of house arrest as a sop to the law, said given the circumstances, sending him to the slammer for three years would be "unfair, outrageous, abhorrent and intolerable."
She's absolutely right, but she could have gone farther. She could have thrown the case out of court, as there was no reason for the police to charge Smickle with any crime. They burst in on him looking for his cousin, frightening Smickle so much that his laptop and pistol fell to the floor. True, he had been holding a restricted, loaded weapon, but he was endangering no one and wasn't actively engaged in committing any crime.
The Smickle case demonstrates that mandatory minimum sentencing in Canada risks creating the kind of tragic scenario that three-strikes laws have created in the U.S., where a person convicted of two felonies can have a much heavier penalty imposed for a third felony. Unfortunately, when felony petty theft is the third crime, the sentences become utterly disproportionate to the gravity of the offence, ranging from 25 years to life in prison. This has resulted in individuals being given ridiculously lengthy terms in prison for such minor acts as stealing a slice of pizza or shoplifting golf clubs, although some of these were later shortened.
Here at FAMM, we've known for a long time that the most absurd stories make the best examples of the dangers of mandatory minimums.

When will legislators learn?  You just can't plan for the Leroy Smickles of the world.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Child Porn Sentences To Be Scrutinized

A new article at the Boston Globe describes how judges are trying to craft just and effective punishments from a very flawed set of federal sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum laws for child pornography crimes:

Judges, including several locally, argue that changes in child pornography sentencing approved by Congress over the past decade, which add extra time for various factors such as the number of images involved, have resulted in sentences that are far too severe.
“Congress sets policy, but Congress doesn’t sentence individuals, judges do,’’ said retired US District Court Judge Nancy Gertner, who served on the bench in Boston until September 2011.
“The guidelines don’t make sense, even for one who wants to be tough on pornography. The measure of the guidelines doesn’t match the culpability of the defendant.’’
Prosecutors acknowledge that the guidelines should be reconfigured to better reflect a defendant’s culpability. But they maintain that any changes to how the guidelines are calculated should not affect the actual scale of the sentences.
They say Congress - and society - have called for the toughened penalties for the crime.
So often in sentencing debates, people assume that giving a shorter prison sentence displays less moral outrage about the crime.  It ain't necessarily so. 

No one could reasonably accuse these federal judges of thinking highly of child pornography, its producers, its peddlers, or even its purchasers.  Judges are objecting to the mandatory minimum and guideline sentences for these crimes because these punishments aren't always just.  They aren't necessarily effective at deterring crime or rehabilitating offenders.  They don't necessarily make us safer, make child pornography less available, or protect victims from further trauma.

Sentencing has many purposes.  Expressing moral outrage isn't the only one that matters.  Sometimes, it's not even the most important purpose.

This Wednesday, February 15, the U.S. Sentencing Commission is having a public hearing on federal child pornography sentencing laws.  The agenda includes perspectives from law enforcement, victims, social scientists, doctors, computer experts, and psychologists.  It looks to be a thought-provoking start to discussing how these sentencing laws work (or don't) and how we should punish a crime that raises strong emotional reactions on all sides of the issue.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Don't Blame Judges for Racial Disparity

That provocative title sums up the message of this new op-ed from FAMM President Julie Stewart, available at The Huffington Post.  

There's been a fight brewing for some time over whether the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines -- which apply to all 70,000+ federal offenders sentenced each year -- should be made mandatory once again, as they were before the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory guidelines violate the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.  That case, U.S. v. Booker, made the sentencing guidelines advisory.  Ever since, opponents of judicial discretion have argued that advisory guidelines give judges too much power and lead to sentencing disparities (racial and otherwise).

But a new study shows that it is prosecutors, not judges, who are creating racial disparities in sentencing.  Julie explains how:
Mandatory sentencing guidelines, just like mandatory minimum sentencing laws, transfer discretion from judges to prosecutors. Prosecutors, already the most powerful players in the criminal justice system, get to choose not only who to charge and what crimes to charge, but they also get to dictate what sentence a defendant will receive if found guilty since judges have little or no power to disagree. If this extraordinary concentration of power in the hands of one group of federal officials does not convince the public to reject a restoration of mandatory guidelines, the findings of this comprehensive new study should.
"Racial Disparity in Federal Criminal Charging and its Sentencing Consequences" is the understated title of the incredibly important and timely study ... [It] found significant black-white disparities in the overall severity of initial charges, but saw the most dramatic differences when they examined charges carrying mandatory minimum sentences. Black men were on average more than twice as likely be charged by prosecutors with a crime that carried a mandatory minimum sentence as were white men, even after holding other factors constant....
Whereas some members of Congress are insisting that judicial discretion must be constrained in order to alleviate racial disparity, the opposite is likely true. The premiere restraint on judicial discretion is the mandatory minimum, which this study demonstrates leads to significant racial disparity in sentencing.
Again, the question seems to be:  Who do we trust to sentence?  Prosecutors, or judges?  Mandatory minimums and mandatory sentencing guidelines put sentencing power in the hands of unaccountable prosecutors.  Now we have data showing that racial disparities result from their use of that power.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Reforming the Presidential Pardon Process

That's the title of this editorial from yesterday's Los Angeles Times, providing its thoughts on how to fix disturbing racial disparities that surfaced in an investigation of the pardons granted by President Obama and his predecessor, President George W. Bush.  
Spurred by a study showing that whites were four times likelier than minorities to receive a presidential pardon, the House Judiciary Committee has asked Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to explain changes he plans to make in the pardon process. Eliminating disparities is easier said than done, but some reforms are obvious. ...
[T]he problem is that the pardon attorney's office pursues seemingly neutral policies that it should realize have a racially disparate impact. For example, one measure of an applicant's worthiness for a pardon is whether he has established a stable life after release; proof of stability includes an intact marriage and freedom from debt, qualifications that skew against minorities. The office also accepts recommendations from politicians interceding on behalf of their constituents or contributors, who turn out, not surprisingly, to be overwhelmingly white.
So, what's the solution?  The Times offers these concluding thoughts:
Before submitting his recommendations, the pardon attorney should scrutinize them for racial disparities and, if they exist, be willing to take another look at the applicant pool to be sure there wasn't inadvertent bias. Criteria for assessing rehabilitation that disproportionately disadvantage blacks and other minorities should be reconsidered; divorce or credit card debt are not necessarily signs of moral weakness. Finally, the number (if not the proportion) of pardons for minorities would increase if both the pardon attorney and the president embraced the spirit as well as the letter of the pardon power.
How would you reform the pardon and commutation process?  Leave a comment and tell us.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Trial Tax

People charged with crimes have a constitutional right to take their cases to trial and make the government prove its case to a jury by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

But using that right can cost you at sentencing -- and the cost can be astronomically high.

It's called the "trial tax," and this excellent article from The Philadelphia Inquirer explains how it works.  Plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors, and you get a low sentence (including, often, one below the mandatory minimum sentence).  Exercise your rights and go to trial, and you may not only get a mandatory minimum sentence, you may also get the book thrown at you.  Here's an example:
It was the second-biggest mistake of LaRue Y. Smith's life.
Laid off from his job, Smith went to his computer, copied out a list of 7-Eleven stores in and around Philadelphia, grabbed a gun, and started sticking them up.
The clerks and customers were terrified. Smith fired his revolver once, by accident, and almost shot himself in the leg.
Police caught the former Marine eight weeks after his crimes had started in June 2007. Within hours, he confessed to a dozen robberies that netted him an unimpressive $2,510, plus cigarettes, chips, and soft drinks.
Then Smith made his really, really big mistake.
In 2009, he rejected a plea bargain to serve 25 years and went to trial. A federal jury convicted him of 10 robberies.
Because Smith had been charged under a "mandatory minimum" law, the judge could not weigh the trial testimony or consider that Smith had no previous convictions. Automatic penalties written by Congress kicked in.
So Smith was sentenced to two centuries, three decades, and two years.
The 232-year sentence was 10 times the average 2009 federal sentence for murder.
Critics call such extreme disparities a "trial tax," and say it amounts to a penalty for exercising the right to trial by jury.
Smith was sentenced under one of federal law's worst mandatory minimum sentences:  18 U.S.C. section 924(c), which carries back-to-back, lengthy prison terms for carrying or using a gun during a drug crime or a crime of violence.

Supporters of mandatory minimum sentences say we need these penalties because judges can't be trusted -- they'll be "soft on crime" and "let people off the hook" and "let murderers run free."  But should we really trust federal prosecutors instead? Even when they're not elected, make their charging decisions in secret (decisions that can't be appealed to a higher court), and can't be impeached for misconduct?

Where you stand on mandatory minimum sentences may be as simple as the answer to this question:  who do you trust to sentence -- prosecutors, or judges?

FAMM Files Amicus Brief in Crack Pipeline Case

In case you missed it last week, FAMM has filed a "friend of the court" brief in two cases being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court:  Dorsey v. United States (11-5683) and Hill v. United States (11-5721).

The cases attempt to answer the thorny question of what to do with so-called "pipeline" defendants:  federal crack offenders who committed their crimes before the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was passed, but were sentenced for those crimes after the Act had gone into effect.  What law should they be sentenced under:  old 100-to-1 crack law, or the Act's new 18-to-1 law?

Read more details here, and read the full brief here.

We expect a ruling from the Court by the end of June 2012.  Keep checking our website,, for updates.

Friday, February 3, 2012

From the Big House to Your House

That's the (rather ingenious) name of a new cookbook compiled by six women in Texas ... who happen to be in state prison.

In prison, cooking utensils are often considered weapons (or potential weapons), so what can you do without knives, graters, peelers, and even boiling water?  This short NPR segment summarizes how prison forces people to cook up some ingenuity -- especially in the kitchen.

The book also includes little boxes entitled "Did You Know?", each explaining an aspect of life in prison that those of us outside of it are unlikely to know about. One example:  "Did You Know?:  Inmates are not allowed to talk while in the commissary line."

I love books like this not just because they show what it's like to be inside prison, but also because they show that prisoners are human beings -- and just like every human being, people in prison want some tasty chow and yearn to express themselves through the culinary arts.  And they probably want to talk while standing in the commissary line.

-- Stowe