Newsbrief: Martha Stewart, Prisoner Advocate 1/21/05

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http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/371/marthastewart.shtml

There is nothing like a taste of justice American-style to make even the haughtiest of the hoity-toity start to think about reforming the system. Ask Martha Stewart. Currently serving a five-month federal prison sentence at the women's prison in Alderson, WV, after being convicted of lying about a stock transaction, Stewart first spoke out about injustice in the US criminal justice system in a Christmas message to supporters in which she called for reducing sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

In that message, she urged supporters to "think about these women -- to encourage the American people to ask for reforms, both in sentencing guidelines, in length of incarceration for nonviolent first-time offenders, and for those involved in drug-taking." She wrote that in prison, there is "no real help, no real programs to rehabilitate, no programs to educate."

Now, in an e-mail written just before last week's Supreme Court ruling invalidating mandatory federal sentencing guidelines -- the court held that the guidelines are now only "advisory" -- Stewart has spoken out again. In a message to a Wall Street Journal reporter, she wrote that the ruling could paradoxically lead to depression among her fellow inmates, primarily women of color doing long sentences for what were often marginal roles in drug crimes.

What worried her the most, she wrote, "is the hope that the Supreme Court has raised in the minds of so many incarcerated women and men that their sentences will be automatically shortened if the court throws out the guidelines. It is astonishing how high hopes are in West Virginia, and I fear that a negative result will cause a severe depression."

Despite the high court's overturning of the mandatory federal sentencing guidelines, the overwhelming majority of the nation's 180,000 federal prisoners -- more than half doing time for drug crimes -- have no prospect of seeing their sentences lowered. Only those prisoners who are currently in the appeal process or who have previously raised a Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial claim will have a chance at a sentence reduction, the court held.

And that's a damned shame, said Stewart in the e-mail. Having gotten to know her fellow prisoners, many of whom are serving lengthy sentences, she found that many were sentenced "unfairly or unwisely because of the guidelines, enhancements and conspiracies. As you can imagine," Stewart continued, "when one gets to talk to these women, most first offenders, and many perfectly nice 'neighbors next door,' it is mind boggling to understand that they have four, six and fifteen years to serve away from family, friends, jobs and homes. It is indeed pitiable."

Ironically, Stewart herself could be eligible for a resentencing hearing, although, with only two months left on her sentence, it seems unlikely she will bother. She was sentenced to five months in prison and five months on house arrest, the lowest possible sentence under the now unconstitutional mandatory sentencing guidelines.

Let us hope that Martha Stewart continues to speak out for reform after she leaves prison on March 5. While nobody seems to care when it is some poor black or Hispanic women prisoner, Stewart could use her celebrity to become a powerful voice for justice.

-- END --
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Issue #371 -- 1/21/05

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Editorial: Unfortunate Bedfellows | Following Oklahoma's Lead, States Target Cold Remedies in Fight Against Methamphetamine | Mexican Stand-Off: Government Sends in Tanks, Soldiers in Effort to Retake Prisons from Narcos | Blogging: A Stunning Admission by Baltimore Police Officials, and More | This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Newsbrief: German Supreme Court Rejects "Zero Tolerance" Drugged Driving Law in Cannabis Case | Newsbrief: Mass Arrests of Drug Users in Iran | Newsbrief: Marijuana Bills Filed -- Medical Marijuana in New Jersey, Decriminalization in New Hampshire | Newsbrief: Resistance to Methadone Clinics Rears Head in Virginia, Washington State | Newsbrief: King County Bar Association (Seattle) Calls for Legal, Regulated Drug Markets | Newsbrief: Texas Bill Would Ban Drug Offenders from Entering Certain San Antonio Neighborhoods | Newsbrief: Last Week's Supreme Court Ruling Pays Off for New York Woman | Newsbrief: Martha Stewart, Prisoner Advocate | Newsbrief: MPP Assists Poor Montana Medical Marijuana Patients | Newsbrief: Maine Activist Providing Medical Marijuana Indicted for Trafficking and Cultivation | This Week in History | The Reformer's Calendar

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