DRCNet Activist Guide 11/94

Mandatory Minimum Sentences

The Nation's Harshest Law | D.C. Repeals Mandatory Minimums

Gramm Tries to Delete Safety Valve | Wilson Paid Off?

Prison Life | Too Many Americans in Prison | Sentencing Today

The Nation's Harshest Law

After the medical marijuana rally on November 15th, see if you can stay in Lansing an extra day to attend public hearings on Michigan's 650 Lifer drug law. This law puts first-time, nonviolent offenders in prison for life without parole for possession with intent to distribute 650 grams of cocaine or heroin mixture. 200 citizens are currently serving life sentences under this law.

State Senator William Faust has introduced bills 909, 910 and 911 to allow for parole of these prisoners; grant exemptions from mandatory life sentences for nonviolent first offenders; and increase the use of "tether" programs (electronic monitoring).

You can help pass these bills by attending the November 16th hearing at the Capitol Building in Lansing, 7-9 p.m., and by calling or writing to your State Senator and to Senate Judiciary committee chairman Senator William VanRegenmorter, State Capitol, Lansing, MI 48913, (517) 373-6920.

Michigan's harsh drug laws received a lot publicity last September, when the Canadian government refused to extradite Daniel Jamieson, an American citizen facing a 20 year mandatory minimum sentence in Michigan for a 1990 cocaine offense. The appellate judges on the Quebec Court of Appeals said that Michigan's 20 year mandatory sentence "shocked the Canadian sensibility" and that to send him back would violate his rights under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Jamieson has been in prison in Canada since 1990, and will remain there pending appeal of his case to the Canadian Supreme Court. He has already served the amount of time prescribed by Canadian law for his offense.

D.C. Repeals Mandatory Minimums

The capitol area's Coalition Against Mandatory Minimum Sentences, organized by District of Columbia Councilmember Bill Lightfoot, won an important victory on November 1st when the D.C. Council voted 9-4 in favor of bill 10-617, the "District of Columbia Nonviolent Offenses Mandatory-Minimum Sentences Amendment Act of 1994". 10-617, proposed by Councilmembers Lightfoot and Thomas, repeals all mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders in the District of Columbia.

Gramm Tries to Delete Safety Valve

Last month Senator Phil Gramm of Texas tried to attach a number of amendments to the District of Columbia Appropriations Bill (appropriating federal funding to the District of Columbia) which would have eliminated the Crime Bill's "safety-valve" provision, created new mandatory minimum sentences, and stripped $5 billion from the Crime Bill's $5.5 billion of crime prevention money.

Sentencing reform advocates, led by the group Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), were successful in defeating the Gramm amendments. An emergency message on the FAMM hotline ((703) 685-6860) asked FAMM members and supporters to call their Senators and ask them to oppose the Gramm amendments. DRCNet got the word late on a Monday night from FAMM New Coordinator Nancy Brown, and was able to contribute by getting the message to its 300+ member e-mail, fax and phone team that night and the next morning, in time for people to call their Senators before the vote that Wednesday.

The safety valve is a clause of the Crime Bill that will allow certain first-time, non-violent drug offenders to be exempted from the 5 or 10 year mandatory minimum sentences that would normally apply to them and be sentenced instead under the federal sentencing guidelines for periods as short as two years.

Supporters of the safety valve were disappointed when a clause making the safety valve retroactive was stripped from the bill in a last minute compromise with certain Republican lawmakers; but the fight for retroactivity will resume next year, and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has promised to try to attach an amendment for this purpose to any and all bills that go through the Judiciary Committee.

FAMM President Julie Stewart expects Senator Gramm to try again and again next year to do the same thing, so stay ready.

Wilson Paid Off?

In the past year, Governor Pete Wilson of California has vetoed medical marijuana and clean needle exchange legislation, and has pushed for Smoke a Joint, Lose Your License and a Three-Strikes-You're-Out law that includes nonviolent drug offenses.

Wilson's infatuation with repressive policies may have less to do with concern for the public safety than with a desire to keep his campaign coffers fat. On October 30th, The LA Times reported that California prison guards donated $425,000 last month to the Wilson campaign, in the largest single donation to a gubernatorial campaign in history. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association has now given a total of $525,000 to Wilson, whose support for longer prison sentences will mean the hiring of thousands more prison guards in years to come.

Prison Life

If there was any doubt that prisons are big business, let them be dispelled now. Prison Life magazine, a project of Joint Venture Media, is a slick glossy catering to prisoners and others concerned with prison issues. Despite its commercial nature (full page color ads and all), Prison Life gives a pretty good look to those on the outside of what life is like on the inside. $19.95 will get you a one year subscription (six issues); send check or money order to Prison Life magazine, 505 8th Ave., 14th Floor, New York, NY 10018, or call them at (212) 629-7065. This June Prison Life will focus on prisoners of the Drug War.

Too Many Americans in Prison

Justice reformers are hosting a number of events over the next month. The Alliance for Student Power of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is sponsoring Prison Awareness Week, 11/14 to 11/19. including discussions led by representatives of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, American Friends Service Committee, Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Arise for Social Justice, and other organizations. Call (413) 665-3471 for info.

The Drug Policy Foundation's Eighth Annual Conference on Drug Policy Reform will be held at the Loews L'Enfant Plaza in Washington D.C., from 11/16 to 11/19. Featured speakers will include US Representative Barney Frank and Colombian Prosecutor General Gustavo de Greiff, and others. For info call DPF at (202) 537-5005.

The Campaign for Effective Crime Policy, affiliated with the Sentencing Project, will host Crime and Politics in the 1990's, a national leadership conference, from 12/1 through 12/3, at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, VA. Call (202) 628-1903 for details.

Finally, Too Many Americans in Prison, an afternoon discussion of the breakdown of criminal justice in New England, will take place on 12/4, from 1 to 4 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist South Church, 292 State St., Portsmouth, NH. This is a preview and planning day for a regional criminal justice reform summit to be held in late April in Springfield, MA. For more information contact Nancy Brown (FAMM), (603) 436-7861 or John Treat, American Friends Service Committee, (617) 661-6130.

Sentencing Today

Incarceration Rates of Industrialized Nations

From the Associated Press, Sept. 12, 1994. There are 1.3 million inmates in American prisons. The incarceration rate has reached an all time high of 519 per 100,000 population, up 22 percent since 1989.

Average Lengths of Federal Sentences

Source: Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, 1991, p. 532.

For more information on mandatory minimum sentencing, contact
Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM),
1612 K Street NW, Suite 400,
Washington, DC 20006,
(202) 822-6700 - voice
(202) 822-6704 - fax
E-mail: [email protected]

Black and white versions of these and other useful charts are available from:
Graphic Outsource
P.O. Box 1011
Olympia, WA 98507
(206) 352-6322

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DRCNet Activist Guide 11/94

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