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Southeast Asia: Indonesia to Treat Drug Users, Not Jail Them

In a surprise move, the Indonesian Supreme Court last Friday issued a memo to judges ordering them to send drug users to drug treatment centers, not prison. The memo is not retroactive, meaning people currently imprisoned for drug use or possession will not be eligible.

According to the memo, arrestees would be eligible for treatment only if the amount of drugs with which they were caught were below certain "personal use" quantities. For marijuana, the upper limit is 5 grams; for cocaine, heroin, and morphine, 0.15 grams, for methamphetamine, 0.25 grams.

In the memo, the Supreme Court said drug users in treatment must submit to drug tests on request, must obtain a letter of recommendation for treatment from a court-appointed psychiatrist, must not relapse, and must not be drug dealers.

While the move is arguably a step forward for drug users, it is causing concern in the Indonesian Judiciary Supervisory Committee, which worried that is could encourage corruption. "Drug suspects could easily pay investigators some money to change their status from drug dealers to drug users," the committee's Hasril Hertanto said Sunday. "Judges usually determine the status of drug case suspects based on the dossiers presented by police and prosecutors. So they are the ones who must be very cautious about this matter."

Southeast Asian nations are among the toughest in the world when it comes to punishing drug users. Even with reservations about coerced treatment, the Supreme Court's move is an advance in drug policy for the archipelago.

Medical Marijuana: In Wake of Holder Comments, Federal Judge Postpones Sentencing of California Medical Marijuana Provider Charles Lynch

Charles Lynch expected to be sentenced to a mandatory minimum federal prison term Monday for operating a medical marijuana dispensary legal under state and local laws, but it didn't happen. Instead, US District Court Judge George Wu postponed the proceedings, telling prosecutors he wanted more information about what appears to be a Justice Department change of heart and policy regarding such prosecutions.

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Charlie Lynch (from friendsofccl.com)
Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would only prosecute medical marijuana providers who violated both state and federal law. Lynch's case is one where he was clearly in compliance with state law in operating his Morro Bay dispensary.

Under Bush administration policy, which did not recognize any distinction between medical and non-medical marijuana, California dispensary operators were targeted for DEA raids and federal prosecutions with no regard for their compliance with state laws. Prosecutions like those of Lynch, who was found guilty in federal court last August, generated loud and boisterous solidarity movements, protests, and scorn toward the federal government.

Judge Wu said he did not believe the apparent change in policy would affect Lynch's conviction, but he said he wanted to consider any new information about the policy change before he imposed sentence on the 47-year-old Lynch.

Federal marijuana law calls for mandatory minimum sentences in cases involving more than 100 pounds or plants, as was the case with Lynch. We can only hope, given the apparent turnaround in federal policy, that Judge Wu finds a way to make his sentence fit the new reality.

Criminal Justice: US Senator Introduces Bill to Create Commission for "Top-to-Bottom" Review of Criminal Justice System

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Jim Webb at 2007 incarceration hearing (photo from sentencingproject.org)
US Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) yesterday introduced a bill that would create a commission designed to overhaul the US criminal justice system. The bill would create a commission that would have 18 months to do a top-to-bottom review of the criminal justice system and come back with concrete, wide-ranging reforms to address the nation's sky-high incarceration rate, responsd to international and domestic gang violence, and restructure the county's approach to drug policy.

"America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace," Webb said in introducing the bill. "Its irregularities and inequities cut against the notion that we are a society founded on fundamental fairness. Our failure to address this problem has caused the nation's prisons to burst their seams with massive overcrowding, even as our neighborhoods have become more dangerous. We are wasting billions of dollars and diminishing millions of lives. We need to fix the system. Doing so will require a major nationwide recalculation of who goes to prison and for how long and of how we address the long-term consequences of incarceration."

Opening with an all too familiar litany of ills plaguing the US criminal justice system-- skyrocketing incarceration, the imprisonment of nonviolent drug offenders, the negative effects of drug prohibition -- the bill calls on the commission to make specific finding regarding:

  • Reasons for increase in the US incarceration rate compared to historical standards;
  • Incarceration and other policies in similar democratic, western countries;
  • Prison administration policies, including the availability of pre-employment training programs and career progression for guards and prison administrators;
  • Costs of current incarceration policies at the federal, state & local level;
  • The impact of gang activities, including foreign syndicates;
  • Drug policy and its impact on incarceration, crime and sentencing;
  • Policies as they relate to the mentally ill;
  • The historical role of the military in crime prevention and border security;
  • Any other area that the Commission deems relevant.

Sen. Webb is also looking for policy change recommendations on drug policy, reentry programs for ex-offenders, prison reforms, and how better to deal with international and domestic criminal organizations.

That Webb should introduce such a sweeping bill comes as little surprise given his history of interest in the field. In 2007, he led a Joint Economic Committee hearing on mass incarceration, and last year, he led another Joint Economic Committee hearing on the economic cost of drug policy, as well as returning to the theme on various other occasions.

The bill does not yet have a number.

Sentencing: Rockefeller Drug Law Reform Deal Near, NY Times Says

The New York Times reported Thursday that a tentative agreement, on principle, to reform New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws had been reached by Gov. David Paterson (D) and the state legislature. The state Senate has already passed its version of Rockefeller law reform; what remains to be done is to reach agreement with Paterson and Senate leaders, as well as wooing back Senate members if the final bill diverges too far from what they passed.

But it isn't a done deal yet, and reform leaders qualify their attitude as "cautiously optimistic" and holding firm for real reform. The devil is the details, they noted.

"This agreement is a good sign that progress is being made to enact real reform, but it is not final, and meaningful reform will be determined by the details," said Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The final deal must include the core components of meaningful reform: restoration of judicial discretion in drug cases including 2nd time offenses, sentencing reform, expansion of community drug treatment and alternatives to incarceration, and retroactive sentencing relief for those serving unjust, long sentences for low-level offenses."

Under the tentative agreement, judges would have considerable discretion in sentencing restored. They would be able to divert first-time nonviolent drug offenders to treatment instead of prison for all but the most serious drug offenses. Judges are currently bound by mandatory minimum sentences in the Rockefeller laws to send to prison people convicted of possessing small amounts of heroin and cocaine. Judges would also have the ability to send some repeat offenders to treatment, but only if they were found to be drug dependent.

The agreement does not represent repeal of the laws, but rather reform, and comes on the heels of a spirited protest outside of Gov. Paterson's New York City office yesterday where more than two hundred people, including Russell Simmons and Reverend Calvin Butts, called on the governor to keep his word and reform the laws. Another demonstration to pressure the politicians was set for today.

"I stood with the governor in 2002 when he was arrested protesting these laws, so I know he believes in meaningful reform," said Anthony Papa, communications specialist for the Drug Policy Alliance who served 12 years under the Rockefeller Drug Laws before then-Gov. George Pataki granted him clemency. "The deal has to be done, and done right. New York's experiment with this criminal justice approach has failed. It's time for the governor and Legislative leaders to take the first step toward a public health and safety approach to drugs."

Not everybody is happy about the presumptive deal. State district attorneys have fought hard to retain effective control over sentencing. Under current law with its mandatory minimums, prosecutors' charging decisions rather than judges' discretion effectively set sentences, and they want to keep that power. On the other side of the equation, some veteran reform activists are denouncing anything short of full repeal as a sell-out.

Stay tuned.

Press Release: Hundreds Rally at Governor's NYC Office, Demand End of Rockefeller Drug Laws

CONTACT:

Drop the Rock, Caitlin Dunklee: 646.269.7344

New York Civil Liberties Union: Jennifer Carnig, 212.607.3363

Drug Policy Alliance: Tony Newman, 646.335.5384

Hundreds Rally at Governor’s NYC Office, Demand End of Rockefeller Drug Laws

March 25, 2009 – Hundreds of New Yorkers rallied today in front of Gov. David Paterson’s Manhattan office, urging the governor and legislative leaders to enact a sweeping overhaul of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, the state’s infamous mandatory-minimum drug sentencing scheme.

Speakers – including hip hop mogul and reform advocate Russell Simmons and the Rev. Calvin Butts of Abyssinian Baptist Church – called on lawmakers to seize this historic opportunity to end the unjust and ineffective laws.

“New York’s drug sentencing laws are the Jim Crow Laws of the 21st Century,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The Rockefeller Drug Laws have failed by every measure. They tear apart families, waste tax dollars and create shocking racial disparities. Governor Paterson and our legislative leaders must finally put an end to this endless cycle of failure and injustice.”

Enacted in 1973, the Rockefeller laws mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Though intended to target drug kingpins, most of the people incarcerated are convicted of low-level offenses. Many of the thousands of New Yorkers in prison under the Rockefeller laws suffer from substance abuse problems; many others struggle with issues related to homelessness, mental illness or unemployment. About 90 percent are black or Latino even though most people who use and sell drugs are white.

“Today we stand at the doorstep of change, and we call on the governor, the state assembly leader and the senate majority leader to fulfill their promise to make that change to end the Rockefeller Drug Laws once and for all,” Simmons said. “We have all been working hard for too many years to not restore full judicial discretion and give judges the option to send people with addictions to treatment rather than prison. The hip-hop community will continue to seek the change that we all know is right.”

Despite modest reforms in 2004 and 2005, the state’s drug sentencing scheme remains intact. These laws deny judges the authority to place people suffering from addiction, mental health issues and homelessness into treatment programs.

“For 36 years, New York State has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars by allowing the racist Rockefeller Drug Laws to serve as a stimulus package for rural upstate prison communities,” said Glenn Martin, vice president of The Fortune Society. “No longer can we continue to lock up drug addicted people from poor urban communities, simply because policy makers lack a vision for upstate economic development.”

In 2002, Paterson, then a state senator, was arrested in an act of civil disobedience promoting the sweeping overhaul of the Rockefeller Drug Laws outside of the New York City offices of then-Governor George Pataki.

“Seven years ago, David Paterson, then a State Senator from Harlem, was handcuffed in an act of civil disobedience aimed at pressing Governor Pataki to end the Rockefeller Drug Laws.  Five years ago, as Senate Minority Leader, he proposed sweeping changes to the harsh statutes” says Caitlin Dunklee, coordinator of the Drop the Rock Campaign. “Now, as Governor, his constituents are rallying to urge him to exercise the leadership he was once known for.”

“We are here to remind Governor Paterson of his past promises and to urge him to return to his better political self,” state Robert Gangi, executive director of the Correctional Association.  “His record tells us that he’s fully aware of these laws’ harsh effects, that they are wasteful, ineffective, and marked by a stark racial bias.  It is time for him as governor to exercise leadership in removing the stain of these notorious statutes from New York’s penal code.”

“In 2002, Gov. Paterson stood by my side as a senator from Harlem New York and spoke bravely about changing the laws that heavily affected his constituency,” said Anthony Papa of the Drug Policy Alliance and former prisoner under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. “Now as governor he has the power to transform those words into action that will finally achieve meaningful reform.”

“For 36 years, the Rockefeller Drug Laws have filled our prisons, emptied the taxpayer’s pockets and have had no effect whatsoever on New York State’s drug use, especially in communities of color, except to turn young people into recidivist felons,” said George Bethos, leader of NYC AIDS Housing Network & Voices Of Community Advocates And Leaders (VOCAL). “Repeal these laws immediately or have society continue to pay the price.”

“We want to see the hundreds of millions of dollars wasted each year on criminalizing chemical dependency in poor urban areas reinvested in those very same communities targeted by these laws,” said Kym Clark, director of FREE! Families Rally for Emancipation and Empowerment. “We need livable wage jobs, educational resources, and access to health care, for starters.”

xxx

Location: 
New York, NY
United States

Rally to end New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws

Hundreds of people, including the families of those in prison for drug offenses, people who were formerly incarcerated, doctors, lawyers and advocates, will rally at Governor Paterson’s Manhattan office to urge him and legislative leaders to end the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The Rockefeller Drug Laws mandate extremely harsh sentences for sale or possession of small amounts of drugs. Most of the thousands of people incarcerated under Rockefeller are low-level drug offenders, and most come from just a handful of low-income New York City neighborhoods. Ninety percent are black or Latino even though most people who use and sell drugs are white. In 2002, Paterson, then a state senator, was arrested in an act of civil disobedience promoting a proposed overhaul of the Rockefeller Drug Laws outside of the New York City offices of then-Governor George Pataki. Now hundreds of people will gather outside his office to demand an end to the outdated, discriminatory laws.
Date: 
Wed, 03/25/2009 - 1:00pm
Location: 
633 3rd Ave. (between 40th and 41st)
New York, NY
United States

Press Release: Hundreds to Rally Wednesday at Paterson's NYC Office to End Rockefeller Drug Laws

For Immediate Release: March 23, 2009 Contact: Jennifer Carnig at 212.607.3363 or jcarnig@nyclu.org, Correctional Association Contacts: Caitlin Dunklee at 646-269-7344, Bob Gangi at 917-327-7648 Wednesday: Hundreds to Rally at Paterson’s NYC Office to End Rockefeller Drug Laws March 23, 2009 – On Wednesday, hundreds of people, including the families of those in prison for drug offenses, people who were formerly incarcerated, doctors, lawyers and advocates, will rally at Governor Paterson’s Manhattan office to urge him and legislative leaders to end the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The Rockefeller Drug Laws mandate extremely harsh sentences for sale or possession of small amounts of drugs. Most of the thousands of people incarcerated under Rockefeller are low-level drug offenders, and most come from just a handful of low-income New York City neighborhoods. Ninety percent are black or Latino even though most people who use and sell drugs are white. In 2002, Paterson, then a state senator, was arrested in an act of civil disobedience promoting a proposed overhaul of the Rockefeller Drug Laws outside of the New York City offices of then-Governor George Pataki. Now hundreds of people will gather outside his office to demand an end to the outdated, discriminatory laws. What: Rally to end New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws When: Wednesday, March 25, 1 p.m. Where: Governor Paterson’s office, 633 3rd Ave., between 40th and 41st Who: The Rev. Calvin Butts, Abyssinian Baptist Church Drop the Rock New York Civil Liberties Union Correctional Association of New York Drug Policy Alliance The Fortune Society Exponents Mothers of the Disappeared Center for Community Alternatives Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers (ASAP) The Bronx Defenders Women’s Prison Association Families Rally for Emancipation and Empowerment (FREE) JusticeWorks Community - xxx -
Location: 
New York, NY
United States

Families Against Mandatory Minimums: Knock down drug sentences!

Families Against Mandatory Minimums logo

Friends --

Great news!  The first bill of the new Congress to eliminate mandatory minimums for all drugs was introduced by Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) on March 12, 2009.  

H.R. 1466, the Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act of 2009, seeks to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders and to give courts the ability to determine sentences based on all the facts, not just drug weight. It would also refocus federal resources on major drug traffickers instead of low-level offenders.  There is currently no companion bill in the Senate.

We are excited about getting this legislation passed, but we can't do it without your help. It will take time and effort to make this bill become law.  The first step is to ask your representative to become a cosponsor of H.R. 1466. If they already are cosponsors, please take a moment to thank them. FAMM's action center gives you talking points to use in your letters and also lets you know if your representative is already on board. Click here to contact your representative now.

It won't be fast and it won't be easy, but by working together, with commitment and with focus, we can knock down mandatory minimum sentencing laws and insure that the punishment fits the crime once more. 

Thanks for getting involved today!

My best -

Julie 

Julie Stewart

President

Sentences that Fit. Justice that Works.

Sentencing: New York Senate to Address Rockefeller Drug Law Reform in Budget -- Meanwhile, Another Damning Study Appears

The New York Assembly passed a Rockefeller drug law reform bill last Wednesday, with the state Senate expected to take action shortly. But last Friday, the Senate's Democratic leaders decided to fold their version of the bill into their larger budget proposals, which will be taken up later this month.

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June 2003 ''Countdown to Fairness'' rally against the Rockefeller drug laws, NYC (courtesy 15yearstolife.com)
According to the Albany Times-Union, Senate Democrats, who control the chamber by a margin of 32 to 30, want to avoid being tagged as "soft on crime" by their Republican counterparts. With the Senate version of the Rockefeller reform bill submerged within the broader budget bills, senators will not have to actually stand up and vote for the reforms, just for the overall budget package.

"Our position is these bills should be taken up on the merits and not folded into a budget bill," said Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif, whose party would like to see Democrats forced to vote for "freeing drug dealers."

"It's clear that it's as much of a budget issue as it is a sentencing issue," said Senate Democratic spokesman Austin Shafran, noting that imprisoning people or subjecting them to drug treatment both have financial costs. He denied that Democrats took this route because they lacked the votes to pass Rockefeller reform on its own.

While the politicians in Albany are dancing around each other, yet another report has been released demonstrating the disastrous impact more than three decades of Rockefeller drug laws has had on the state. The report, "Rockefeller Drug Laws: Unjust, Irrational, Ineffective," was produced by the New York Civil Liberties Union and examines the economic and social impact of the Rockefeller laws on the state as a whole and on its largest cities: Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Rochester and Syracuse.

In a demographic analysis of who is sent to prison and for what in New York, the report found huge racial and geographic disparities. In New York City, for example, neighborhoods with just 4% of the city's adult population accounted for 25% of those sent to prison. More than half of those sent up the river went on drug charges, and 97% were non-white. Similar numbers come in for other big Empire State cities.

"New York's drug sentencing laws are the Jim Crow laws of the 21st Century," said Robert Perry, NYCLU legislative director and the report's lead author. "Prosecution of drug offenses has sent hundreds of thousands to prison, most of whom were charged with low-level, nonviolent offenses. The Rockefeller drug laws have been a driving force in incarcerating a prison population that is almost exclusively black and brown."

"The Rockefeller drug laws have failed by every measure. They tear apart families, waste tax dollars and create shocking racial disparities," said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. "Yet, after 36 years of failure, our state continues locking up the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Justice and common sense require comprehensive reform."

The report makes several recommendations for reform, including:

  • Reduce sentences for those convicted of drug-related crimes.
  • Restore judicial discretion and end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.
  • Develop and invest in a statewide alternative to incarceration model to provide supervised treatment, education and employment training for those who would be better served by diversion than by prison.
  • Provide retroactive sentencing relief for those already incarcerated under the Rockefeller drug laws.

"Faced with a major recession and a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, New York cannot afford to waste hundreds of millions of dollars locking up nonviolent drug offenders," Lieberman said. "Money saved through reforming the drug-sentencing laws could be spent helping struggling New Yorkers get back on their feet."

The Assembly has done its duty. Now it is up to the state Senate and Gov. David Patterson (D) to come up with a real reform bill at least as good as the Assembly's.

NBC Insults Marijuana Users

Once again, we find the press struggling to cover drug policy reform without resorting to derogatory epithets:

State Moves Toward Lighter Sentences for Potheads
By Scott Ross

The state Assembly has struck a blow for the state's stoners by voting to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws that have threatened so many tokers with the wrong kind of joint. [NBCNewYork.com]

This is really an achievement in childish drug reporting in that it not only sounds ridiculous, it actually renders the story utterly frivolous and misleading. Marijuana arrests are a problem in New York to be sure, but simple possession is technically decriminalized already. Rockefeller reform is primarily not about marijuana at all. It's about reforming wildly draconian sentencing guidelines for a variety of drug offenses. Framing it as a marijuana policy reform is just wrong. Many of the worst excesses of the Rockefeller laws have nothing at all to do with marijuana.

Sadly, it looks as though the author loved his dumb headline so much, he destroyed the entire story just so he could use it. It's pure journalistic malpractice.

Please take a moment to click over there and leave a polite comment.

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