Mandatory Minimums

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Beyond Prohibition Foundation Commends Liberal Party of Canada for Opposing Bill S-10 (Press Release)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 9, 2011

CONTACT: Jacob Hunter at 604.803.4085 or jacob@jacobhunter.org, or Kirk Tousaw at kirktousaw@gmail.com

Beyond Prohibition Foundation Commends Liberal Party of Canada for Opposing Bill S-10

Today the Liberal Party of Canada announced that it would vote down Bill S-10, a cornerstone of the Harper Conservative’s incarceration agenda, which would have imposed mandatory jail sentences on non-violent minor drug offenders. The Beyond Prohibition Foundation commends the Liberal Party for standing up to Mr. Harper’s false “soft on crime” slurs and defeating this dangerous, enormously expensive and ideologically-driven legislation.

“We are extremely pleased that the Liberal Party has made its decision on the basis of evidence,” noted Kirk Tousaw, Executive Director of the Foundation, “This punishment plan would not have reduced crime, nor would it have made Canadian safer from the influence of gangs. In fact, the Foundation has long argued that the evidence is clear that ramping up a war on drugs has the perverse effect of making drugs more available, cheaper and more potent while simultaneously increasing the profitability and violent tendencies of organized criminals. Today the Liberal Party of Canada decided to be smart on crime.”

The legislation had previously been the subject of intense criticism during two rounds of testimony before committees of the Senate and House of Commons. Experts from Canada, the United States and abroad testified that other jurisdictions using mandatory jail terms have worse crime and drug problems than Canada, and that these experiments have been expensive failures. Despite this, the Harper Conservatives have been pushing for the legislation for years.

“The Foundation knew that the Conservatives would not listen to expert advice and, therefore, we made a strategic decision early on to appeal to the Liberal Party,” explained Jacob Hunter, the Foundation’s Policy Director. “We believed that the Liberals would understand that making economically and socially smart decisions with Canadian’s tax dollars would be a political benefit, not a liability. Everyone knew that Mr. Harper would attempt to fool Canadians with ‘soft on crime’ rhetoric but the Foundation believes that our citizens are smarter than that. We are very pleased the Liberal Party agrees.”

Earlier this week, the government refused to tell the House how much its incarceration agenda would cost Canadians. “Mr. Harper tried to use fear to sell Canadians on a multi-billion dollar legislative boondoggle by hiding the costs and falsely describing it as targeting only major criminals.

Instead, it would have almost exclusively punished non-violent small time drug offenders. Now that the legislation appears doomed, we urge all Parliamentarians to conduct a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis of drug prohibition. Its time to reject the failed approaches of the past and, instead, to work toward putting criminals out of business by ending the war on drugs,” Tousaw continued.

Location: 
Canada

Rethinking Drug-Free School Zones: Massachusetts Gov. Patrick Proposes Changing a Policy Critics Say Is Unfair and Ineffective

Location: 
MA
United States
For years, advocates of criminal justice reform in Massachusetts have been critical of the school zone law, which carries mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes that take place within 1,000 feet of school property. While the law was passed in the name of public safety and the protection of children, critics say it's so broadly drawn that it's ineffective, and that it unfairly penalizes certain defendants on the basis of where they live. Now reformers have found an ally in the Statehouse's corner office. Gov. Patrick announced a proposal to dramatically reduce the size of the school zones, from 1,000 to 100 feet, as part of a plan to address a staggering projected state budget gap of $1.2 billion. The plan also includes proposals to close two state prisons and to ease sentencing laws for non-violent drug offenders, all moves the governor contends would save much-needed money.
Publication/Source: 
Valley Advocate (MA)
URL: 
http://www.valleyadvocate.com/article.cfm?aid=13128

Canadian Doctors Decry Crackdown on Drugs

Location: 
Canada
A large group of doctors, HIV researchers and other public health officials has just released a letter lambasting the Canadian government’s bill S-10, which would overhaul illicit drug laws. The principle target of the 564 signatories – which includes doctors, nurses, social workers and law professors – is a provision that would impose minimum prison sentences of at least six months for a variety of drug offenses, including operating small-scale marijuana grow operations.
Publication/Source: 
National Post (Canada)
URL: 
http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/02/07/blackwell-on-health-doctors-decry-crackdown-on-drugs/

Cut Drug War Spending (Action Alert)

Hi Friends,

In a recent Q&A with YouTube viewers, President Obama said that U.S. drug policy focuses too heavily on law enforcement. He also took a huge step forward calling drug legalization an "entirely legitimate topic for debate." If you haven't taken action on the email alert I sent you last week, please take a minute to do so now. We have a great opportunity to cut funding for arrests and incarceration by treating drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal issue.

Sincerely,

Bill Piper
Director, Office of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance

We Are the Drug Policy Alliance.

 

 

Tell President Obama to stop wasting money on the failed war on drugs.

Take Action!

Email the President

Dear Friends,

In his State of the Union address a few days ago, President Obama said it is time for the federal government to tighten its belt and stop wasting so much money. One of the biggest – and most destructive – wastes of money is the war on drugs. President Obama is working on a new federal budget – urge him to stop wasting money on the failed war on drugs.

In these times of deficits and budget cuts, let’s send a clear message: no more money for marijuana arrests. No more money for laughably stupid anti-marijuana ads. No more money for random drug testing. No more money for SWAT raids on people's homes for suspected drug law violations. No more money for long prison sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses. No more money for the drug war. Period.

Tell the President that our tax dollars should be spent more wisely.

With your help we can eliminate or cut drug war waste and dismantle the war on drugs. Please take a minute to write the White House and tell President Obama to stop wasting your tax dollars on failed drug policies.

Sincerely,

Bill Piper
Director, Office of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance

Conservatives Board Sentencing Reform Bandwagon [FEATURE]

Struggling with chronic budget crises, lawmakers in more and more states are embracing sentencing and other reforms in a bid to hold down corrections costs. But while sentencing reform has long been the domain of "bleeding heart" liberals, now conservatives are driving those efforts in some states.

Indiana's Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels wants sentencing reforms...(Image via Wikipedia)
It's not just about dollars. Although fiscal concerns are a driving force among conservatives, there are also signs they are recognizing and confronting the failures of our drug and criminal justice policies. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, none other than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote of "more humane, effective alternatives" to the national imprisonment binge.

Still, as their states bleed red ink, some of them are shifting from "tough on crime" to "smart on crime." Leading the charge is a newly formed advocacy group, Right On Crime, endorsed by big conservative names including Gingrich, taxpayer advocate Grover Norquist, and former drug czar William Bennett.

Based in Texas, Right On Crime is touting the success the Lone Star State has had with sentencing reform to make such reforms more palatable to conservatives. In 2003, the state passed legislation ordering that small-time drug offenders be given probation instead of prison time, and in 2007, the state rejected prison-building in favor of spending $241 million on treatment programs for offenders.

Crime rates declined at the same time the incarceration rate did. And the state has saved about $2 billion by not building an additional 17,000 prison beds it once thought it needed.

Now, conservatives in other states are pushing similar reforms -- Right on Crime identifies 21 states it says are engaged in "conservative" sentencing and corrections reforms.

"The fiscal argument is resonating with conservatives and liberals alike these days," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "Prison and corrections spending is the big elephant in the room right now; it is ripe for cuts."

But it's not just the fiscal argument, said Mauer. "Some of this is in keeping with conservative philosophy, and much of their concern about incarceration has focused on drug policy. The drug war encompasses the whole country, but the federal system is an enormous part of it. Conservatives view it as taking over areas of policy that should best be left to the states," he said. "And then there are sort of libertarian conservatives who don't think the government should be telling us what is appropriate behavior."

It is also the result of years of effort by key advocates, said Mauer. "People like Pat Nolan at the Justice Fellowship have been working with that community for over a decade now about why this should be a conservative issue also," he pointed out.

Mauer welcomed the emergence of conservatives interested in sentencing reform. "We need to broaden the range of voices that are being heard on these issues," he said. "They can be helpful in a couple of ways, most importantly in communicating that these are not necessarily liberal or conservative issues, but good public policy perspectives. It's kind of ironic that the one area where there seems to be real bipartisan cooperation happening is in criminal justice policy."

"I think it's a good thing," said Traci Velasquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). "The work that JPI and a lot of others have done over the years points out financial and social reasons why existing drug and other criminal justice policies have been ineffective, and some of those reasons are conservative: It doesn't work and it costs too much. I'm glad to see voices across the political spectrum are speaking out on this."

The years of laying the groundwork are starting to pay off now, said Velasquez, who also pointed to the efforts of the Justice Fellowship. "There has been a lot of receptivity this year," she said. "When governors gave their inaugural speeches this year, I think there were ten of them that included things about criminal justice reform, locking up fewer people, and helping ex-prisoners be more successful in the community."

Sentencing and other criminal justice reforms are also benefiting from a sort of benign neglect, Velasquez said. "Because the media is focused on a lot of other issues, there is a little more space to talk about these issues," she said. "Between the Middle East, the overall economic crisis, and two wars, the media doesn't have a lot of time to push a hysterical criminal justice narrative as it did in the past. Now, policymakers can worry less about commentators ripping them apart as soft on crime."

Whether or not conservatives actually accomplish sentencing reform, the fact that they are now addressing it is a positive step, said Mauer. "If nothing else, just the symbolism of these leading conservatives coming out helps shift the political climate under which these issues are being addressed," he said. "It makes it a little more comfortable to talk about it."

The fact that the states are now collectively spending $50 billion a year on corrections, making it their second-fastest growing spending category behind Medicaid, according to the Pew Center on the States, is impelling efforts at change in places not previously known as bastions of reform:

In Indiana, Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has made a massive criminal justice system overhaul one of his top legislative priorities this year. Based on a report from the bipartisan Indiana Criminal Code Evaluation Commission, the package includes recommendations to cut sentences for possession and sale of cocaine and methamphetamine.

In the past decade, even though crime rates fell in Indiana, the prison population increased by 40%. Corrections spending also increased, although not as much, and now swallows up $616 million a year. More than half of Indiana prisoners are drug or property offenders. If current trends continue unabated, the report found, the prison population will increase by another 21% by 2017, and the state will have to spend an additional $1.2 billion on top of current corrections spending just to make room to house them.

While the reforms have broad support, not everybody is on board. The Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorney has voted to oppose the recommendation to cut drug sentences.

"There are all kinds of proposals on the table that reduce and reassign sentencing levels," the group's 2010 president, Shelby County Prosecutor Kent Apsley told the Indianapolis Star last month. "Some of them in my view are pretty extreme changes in the law and probably go too far. The question is: Where is the breaking point where you're saving money to the point that it may seriously impact public safety?"
 

In Pennsylvania, Democratic state Auditor General Jack Wagner last week endorsed Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart Greenleaf's SB 100, the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which seeks to reduce corrections costs by allowing the state to more quickly transfer nonviolent offenders to community corrections centers and allowing more nonviolent offenders to be eligible for the community centers.

"With Pennsylvania facing its greatest budget crisis since the Great Depression, we must look for sustainable savings in every nook and cranny of state government, and that includes the criminal justice system, which is one of the three biggest drivers of increased spending over the past decade," Wagner said.

Pennsylvania's prison population has increased five-fold since 1980, to more than 51,000 last year, and was the fastest growing in the country last year. According to Wagner, that increase is "due in part to tougher sentencing guidelines, particularly with drug-related offenses."

The alternative sentencing proposals in SB 100 could save the state $50 million in the coming fiscal year and $350 million over the next four years, Wagner said in a statement as he released a report on corrections spending whose recommendations largely dove-tailed with the bill. But the title of the statement, Auditor General Jack Wagner Says PA Needs Sentencing Reform, Construction Freeze to Shrink Corrections Cost, pretty well summed it up.

The state is already committed to spending $860 million to build four new prisons and four new housing units to hold another 9,000 inmates, but those will be full as soon as they are built. Wagner is saying no more prison-building.

"While most economic sectors in the commonwealth remain mired in recession, prisons remain Pennsylvania's largest growth industry," he said.

Serious conservative reform efforts are also underway in Kentucky and Louisiana, among others, but while conservative support for sentencing reforms is making waves, liberals are not shirking, either. Reform measures are afoot in a number of states. Here are two examples:

...and so does California's Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown (Image via Wikipedia)
In California, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last month outlined plans to save half a billion dollars  a year by keeping "nonviolent, non-serious, non-sex offense" first-time offenders out of state prison. Those convicts would instead be housed in county jails. It is not sentencing reform, but it will take some of the pressure off the state prison system.

Drug offenders are among those who could be affected. Currently, there are some 10,000 people serving time in California for drug possession, as well as several thousand serving time for marijuana manufacture or distribution offenses.

The measure has the support of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which also called for a greater investment in drug treatment. "Governor Brown set an important tone and made it clear that our expensive state prisons should be reserved for people convicted of serious offenses, not for everyone who's ever made a mistake," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, DPA deputy state director for Southern California.  "California is expected to save $500 million a year by handling more petty offenses, including low-level drug possession, at the county level. We think the savings would be even greater if drug treatment were made more available in the community. Under the plan, counties would have that option."

In Massachusetts, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick is calling for the repeal of many of the state's mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses as part of a criminal justice reform package he unveiled last month. Patrick's proposal would also allow nonviolent drug offenders to become eligible for parole, work release, and earned "good time" credits, and it would reduce the size of school "drug-free" zones from 1,000 feet to 100 feet.

The governor's proposal was "a bold move," but also "just basic common sense," said Barbara Dougan of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). "The governor’s bill would simply realign our current drug sentencing policies so that they are in sync with what we know about who is being sentenced to mandatory prison terms and what those people need to stay out of trouble when they leave prison," she continued. "Nearly two-thirds of those sentenced to mandatory prison terms fall into the two lowest level 'criminal history' groups -- no prior record or few lower level offenses. Yet too often they serve disproportionately harsh sentences, sometimes longer than those who commit violent crimes. As a result, the public pays for lengthier sentences than are warranted."

But, as in Indiana, prosecutors and law enforcement officials are coming out in opposition to at least part of the proposal. According to the Boston Globe, they are objecting to shrinking the school "drug-free" zone because doing so "would allow dealers to sell drugs very close to schools and would weaken strong drug laws passed during the 1980s crack cocaine scourge."

Conservatives are now joining liberals in trying to bring some common sense and fiscal sanity to the nation's drug and sentencing policies. But as police and prosecutor organizations have shown, reform threatens some powerful groups' turfs -- one man's cost is another's benefit. The sentencing reform battle is far from won, but the battle is joined, and we have reinforcements.

Columbian Marching Powder: How Reforms to the Rockefeller Drug Laws Could Help the Alleged Ivy League Drug Dealers

Location: 
NY
United States
In 2009, after years of debate and political wrangling, the New York state legislature finally passed a bill revising the state's notorious Rockefeller drug laws. Now it turns out that the first high-profile beneficiaries of the reforms could be a bunch of kids from Columbia University. The arrest of five students on Dec. 7 — they allegedly sold $11,000 worth of marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, Adderall, and LSD — may be a "test case" for the new reforms.
Publication/Source: 
Slate (NY)
URL: 
http://www.slate.com/id/2283406/

Delaware House Committee Approves Rewrite of Drug Laws

Location: 
DE
United States
A House committee has approved a sweeping revision of Delaware's drug laws that supporters say will bring more consistency and fairness to the criminal justice system.
Publication/Source: 
WDEL (DE)
URL: 
http://www.wdel.com/story.php?id=31968

Massachusetts Governor Patrick Proposes Sentencing, Parole Reforms for Drug Offenders

Location: 
MA
United States
Mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes that don’t involve guns or children would be repealed, giving more discretion to judges, and certain drug offenders serving mandatory minimums in state prison would be eligible for parole after serving half their maximum sentence, under legislation Gov. Deval Patrick plans to file with his budget.
Publication/Source: 
Mansfield News (MA)
URL: 
http://www.wickedlocal.com/mansfield/town_info/government/x1203794915/Gov-Patrick-proposes-sentencing-parole-changes-for-drug-offenders

Reagan Turns 100: Fawning Media Ignore His Disastrous War on Drugs (Opinion)

Tony Newman, communications director for the Drug Policy Alliance, opines on Ronald Reagan's legacy. Newman says Reagan's harsh drug policies not only exploded the prison population, he also blocked programs that could have prevented hundreds of thousands of AIDS deaths.
Publication/Source: 
Alternet (CA)
URL: 
http://www.alternet.org/drugs/149658/reagan_turns_100%3A_fawning_media_ignore_his_disastrous_%27war_on_drugs%27

Canada: Voice Your Opposition to Costly Mandatory Minimum Sentencing for Drug-Related Offenses (Action Alert)

The federal government of Canada is currently considering Bill S-10, which proposes legislative amendments that, among other things, would introduce mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain drug-related offenses. Research clearly demonstrates that mandatory minimum sentences are extremely expensive to the taxpayer and do not meaningfully improve public health and safety nor reduce drug use or crime in communities.

The Urban Health Research Initiative is inviting concerned health practitioners, scientists, researchers and academics in Canada to join it in supporting evidence-based drug prevention and treatment initiatives and opposing the introduction of costly and ineffective mandatory minimum sentencing legislation.  Please see the sign-on letter at http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/6452/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY....

Location: 
Canada

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