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CCR Announcement: Five Key Amicus Briefs Filed in Prison Telephone Appeal

[An announcement from the Center for Constitutional Rights] Dear friends, We are happy to report that the Court of Appeals has accepted all the “friend of the court” briefs filed last week in support of our case. Thanks so much to all of you who signed on in support of this important fight. The briefs are all available at out website, at . We encourage you to read them and share them with others, as they present compelling evidence and argument against the State’s discriminatory and un-just actions. Peace in and out, Marion… The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is excited to report that 38 organizations, over 50 individuals, and 15 elected officials have moved for permission to file "friend of the court" briefs with the highest court of the State of New York in support of the pending appeal by the friends, family members, and attorneys of New York State Prisoners. CCR also filed the reply brief in the case, Walton v. New York State Department of Correctional Services, on Friday December 1st, completing the parties' briefing schedule before the high court. CCR attorney Rachel Meeropol said, "This brings us one step closer to ending the unlawful kickback contract between MCI/Verizon and the Department of Correctional Services. The amicus briefs filed show that support for ending the contract and creating just rates for prison families is broad and deep: we hope that the court will take notice, but also that the new Governor will do the right thing and put a stop to this unlegislated, backdoor tax as one of his first priorities." The lawsuit seeks an order prohibiting the State and MCI/Verizon from charging exorbitant rates to the family members of prisoners to finance a 57.5% kick back to the State. MCI is currently charging these family members a 630 percent markup over regular long distance consumer rates to receive a collect call from their loved ones, the only method of calling from a DOCS institution. Judge George Ceresia of the Supreme Court of New York, Albany County, dismissed the suit last fall, citing issues of timeliness, and the Appellate Division affirmed the decision. In July 2006, the Court of Appeals agreed to hear the case. Oral argument is scheduled for January 9, 2007. The friend of the court briefs address the impact of the DOCS kickback on diverse segments of New York, and highlight the constitutional violations detailed in the complaint. Betsy Gotbaum, Public Advocate for the City of New York has filed a proposed brief on behalf of herself and 14 members of the New York City Council, including Gale Brewer, Yvette D. Clarke, Bill De Blasio, James Gennaro, Robert Jackson, Letitia James, G. Oliver Koppell, Miguel Martinez, Hiram Monserrate, Annabel Palma, Diana Reyna, Larry B. Seabrook, Helen Sears and Kendall Stewart supporting the appeal in light of the disproportionate impact the State's policy has on New York City residents. The brief focuses on the importance of prisoners maintaining contact with their loved ones to advance the rights of children growing up in New York with an incarcerated parent and to increase safety and decrease crime in New York City neighborhoods. The Innocence Project has moved to file a friend of the court brief on behalf of itself and the Incarcerated Mothers Program documenting the compelling situation of individuals falsely convicted of crimes, and the importance that phone calls to their loved ones played, and continues to play, in their ability to reconnect to their community upon their exoneration. The brief also analyzes the myriad constitutional deficiencies of the current system. The Law firm of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel has written a proposed brief on behalf of The Sentencing Project, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Women's Prison Project, the Vera Institute of Justice, the Fortune Society, the Center for Community Alternatives, Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, the Justice Policy Institute, the Southern Tier Advocacy & Mitigation Project, Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama, the Parolee Human Rights Project of the New York City AIDS Housing Network, AdvoCare, Inc., Voice of the Ex-Offender, the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, and the Real Cost of Prisons Project. The brief traces established social science research completed in the last century unequivocally establishing the critical role family and community ties plays in the rehabilitation and re-entry of former prisoners. Legal Aid Society has requested leave to submit a brief on behalf of itself, The Center for Law and Social Justice and the Bronx Defenders, all organizations that are forced to pay the high rates of calls from New York State Prisoners in the course of their representation of advocacy efforts. Legal Aid's brief discusses the adverse impact the high rates has on provision of legal services and urges the Court to correct this continuing injustice. Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, has requested leave to submit a brief on behalf of 16 organizations devoted to providing services and support for the family members of prisoners and prisoners themselves, including Bridge Street Prison Ministry Outreach, Bronx HIV Care Network, Citizens for Restorative Justice, Coalition of Families of New York State Lifers, Coalition for Parole Restoration, Ebenezer House of Deliverance Prison Ministry Outreach, Justice Now, Hour Children, New York Inmate Families,, Parents in Action, Prison Action Network, Prison Families Community Forum, Prison Families of New York, Inc., and Take Higher Ground, Inc. Over 50 family members, friends, and ministers of prisoners have also signed on. The brief includes accounts of the impact of the high cost of telephone rates on the loved ones of prisoners. The full text of each brief is available on CCR's website at
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Only One Commutation :) Ask for More!

According to the Associated Press, President Bush issued 16 pardons yesterday, including one sentence commutation. Six of them including the commutation were for drug offenses. (For those of you who are not familiar with this, a pardon can simply mean that an old offense is wiped off of one's record -- feels good, may help with employment and other matters, but the individual was already finished with any incarceration that was part of the sentence.) A commutation is when someone actually gets out early or finishes parole or probation early. According to the AP:
Bush also granted a commutation of sentence to Phillip Anthony Emmert of Washington, Iowa, whose case involved conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. He was sentenced Dec. 23, 1992, to 262 months’ imprisonment (reduced on Feb. 21, 1996) and five years’ supervised release. Bush directed that Emmert’s sentence expire on this coming Jan. 20, but left the supervised release intact.
Please contact the White House to let them know that: 1) We're glad he's releasing Phillip Emmert; 2) One commutation is nowhere near good enough. The president should release more nonviolent drug offenders this year! Just a few of the more well known ones: Weldon Angelos, Clarence Aaron, Lawrence & Lamont Garrison.
Washington, DC
United States

It Was the Worst of Times: Drug Reform Defeats, Downers, and Disappointments in 2006

As Drug War Chronicle publishes its last issue of the year -- we will be on vacation next week -- it is time to look back at 2006. In a companion piece, we looked at the highlights for drug reform this year; here, we look at the lowlights, from failures at the polls to bad court rulings to negative trends. Below -- in no particular order -- is our necessarily somewhat arbitrary list of the ten most significant defeats and disappointments for the cause of drug law reform. (We also publish a "best of 2006" list in this issue, above.)

The drug war continues unabated on the streets of America. Despite two decades of drug reform efforts, the war on drugs continues to make America a country that eats its young. In May, we reported that the US prisoner count topped 2.1 million -- a new high -- and included more than 500,000 drug war prisoners. In September, the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report, showing nearly 800,000 marijuana arrests and 1.8 million drug arrests in 2005 -- another new high. And just two weeks ago, we reported that more than seven million people are in jail or prison or on probation or parole -- yet another new high.

Methamphetamine hysteria continues unabated and becomes an excuse for old-school, repressive drug laws and bad, newfangled ones, too. The drug war always needs a demon drug du jour to scare the public, and this year, like the past few years, meth is it. Never mind that the stuff has been around for decades and that there is less to the "meth epidemic" than meets the eye. The "dangers of meth" have been cited as a reason for everything from targeting South Asian convenience store clerks to restricting access to cold medications containing pseudoephedrine to harsh new penalties for meth offenses to more than 20 states defining meth use or production as child abuse. Michigan even went so far as to pass legislation banning meth recipes on the Internet, while Arizona voters felt impelled to roll back a decade-old sentencing reform. Under that reform, first- and second-time drug possession offenders couldn't be sentenced to jail or prison, but now Arizona has created an exception for meth offenders. The drug warriors like to say meth is the new crack, and in the way meth is used as an excuse for "tough" approaches to drug policy, that is certainly true.

The US Supreme Court upholds unannounced police searches. In a June decision, the court upheld a Michigan drug raid where police called out their presence at the door, but then immediately rushed in before the homeowner could respond. Previously, the courts had allowed such surprise entries only in the case of "no-knock" warrants, but this ruling, which goes against hundreds of years of common law and precedent, effectively eviscerates that distinction. "No-knock" raids are dangerous, as we reported that same month, and as Atlanta senior citizen Kathryn Johnston would tell you if she could. But she can't -- Johnston was killed in a "no-knock" raid last month.

Marijuana legalization initiatives lose in Colorado and Nevada. After four years of effort, the Marijuana Policy Project still couldn't get over the top with its "tax and regulate" initiative in Nevada, although it increased its share of the vote from 39% to 44%. In Colorado, SAFER Colorado took its "marijuana is safer than alcohol" message statewide after successes at state universities and in Denver last year, but failed to convince voters, winning only 41% of the vote.

South Dakota becomes the first state where voters defeat an initiative to legalize medical marijuana. In every state where it had gone to the voters as a ballot measure, medical marijuana had emerged victorious. But voters in the socially conservative, lightly populated Upper Midwest state narrowly rejected it in November. The measure lost 48% to 52%.

California's medical marijuana movement is under sustained attack by the feds and recalcitrant state and local officials and law enforcement. This year, it seems like barely a week goes by without a new raid by the DEA or unreconstructed drug warriors in one county or another. San Diego has been particularly hard-hit, but we also reported on a spate of raids in October, and there have been more since. The feds have also started their first medical marijuana prosecution since the 2003 Ed Rosenthal fiasco, with Merced County medical marijuana patient and provider Dustin Costa going on trial last month.

Hundreds die from overdoses of heroin cut with fentanyl, but the official response is almost nonexistent -- except for increased law enforcement pressure. With injection drug users falling over dead from Boston to Baltimore, Philadelphia to Detroit and Chicago, an estimated 700 people have been killed by the deadly cocktail. We reported on it in June, but the wave of deaths continues to the present. Just last week, more than 120 medical experts, public health departments, and drug user advocates sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt urging him to take aggressive action. Ho-hum, who cares about dead junkies? Not the federal government, at least so far.

Plan Colombia continues to roll along, adding fuel to the flames of Colombia's civil war while achieving little in the realm of actually reducing the supply of cocaine. The US Congress continues to fund Plan Colombia to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, even though despite six years of military assistance and widespread aerial eradication using herbicides, it now appears that production is higher than anyone ever thought. Perhaps a Democratic Congress will put an end to this fiasco next year, but Democrats certainly can count influential Plan Colombia supporters among their ranks -- incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and presidential hopeful Joe Biden (DE), to name just one.

Afghanistan is well on its way to becoming a true narco-state. The US war on terror and the US war on drugs are on a collision course in Afghanistan, which now, five years after the US invaded, produces more than 90% of the world's illicit opium. This year, Afghanistan's opium crop hit a new record high of 6,100 metric tons, and now, US drug czar John Walters is pressuring the Afghans to embrace eradication with herbicides. But each move the US and the Afghans make to suppress the opium trade just drives more Afghans into the waiting arms of the Taliban, which is also making enough money off the trade to finance its reborn insurgency. Meanwhile, the Afghan government is also full of people getting rich off opium. Everyone is ignoring the sensible proposals that have put on the table for dealing with the problem, which range from an economic development and anti-corruption approach put forward by the UN and World Bank as an alternative to eradication, and the Senlis Council proposal to license production and divert it to the legitimate medicinal market.

Australia is in the grips of Reefer Madness. While some Australian states enacted reforms to soften their marijuana laws in years past, the government of Prime Minister John Howard would like to roll back those reforms. The Australians seem particularly susceptible to hysterical pronouncements about the links between marijuana and mental illness, and they also hold the unfathomable notion that marijuana grown hydroponically is somehow more dangerous than marijuana grown in soil. Over the weekend, the national health secretary announced he wants to ban bongs. That's not so surprising coming from a man who in May announced that marijuana is more dangerous than heroin. Hopefully, saner heads will prevail Down Under, but it isn't happening just yet.

It Was the Best of Times: Drug Reform Victories and Advances in 2006

As Drug War Chronicle publishes its last issue of the year -- we will be on vacation next week -- it is time to look back at 2006. Both here at home and abroad, the year saw significant progress on various fronts, from marijuana law reform to harm reduction advances to the rollback of repressive drug laws in Europe and Latin America. Below -- in no particular order -- is our necessarily somewhat arbitrary list of the ten most significant victories and advances for the cause of drug law reform. (We also publish a top ten most significant defeats for drug law reform in 2006 below.)

Marijuana possession stays legal in Alaska. A 1975 Alaska Supreme Court case gave Alaskans the right to possess up to a quarter-pound of marijuana in the privacy of their homes, but in 1991, voters recriminalized possession. A series of court cases this decade reestablished the right to possess marijuana, provoking Gov. Frank Murkowski to spend two years in an ultimately successful battle to get the legislature to re-recriminalize it. But in July, an Alaska Superior Court threw out the new law's provision banning pot possession at home. The court did reduce the amount to one ounce, and the state Supreme Court has yet to weigh in, but given its past rulings, there is little reason to think it will reverse itself.

Local initiatives making marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority win across the board. In the November elections, lowest priority initiatives swept to victory in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica, California, as well as Missoula County, Montana, and Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Earlier this year, West Hollywood adopted a similar ordinance, and last month, San Francisco did the same thing. Look for more initiatives like these next year and in 2008.

Rhode Island becomes the 11th state to approve medical marijuana and the third to do so via the legislative process. In January, legislators overrode a veto by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) to make the bill law. The bill had passed both houses in 2005, only to be vetoed by Carcieri. The state Senate voted to override in June of 2005, but the House did not act until January.

The Higher Education Act (HEA) drug provision is partially rolled back. In the face of rising opposition to the provision, which bars students with drug convictions -- no matter how trivial -- from receiving federal financial assistance for specified periods, its author, leading congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder, staged a tactical retreat. To blunt the movement for full repeal, led by the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform, Souder amended his own provision so that it now applies only to students who are enrolled and receiving federal financial aid at the time they commit their offenses. Passage of the amended drug provision in February marks one of the only major rollbacks of drug war legislation in years.

New Jersey passes a needle exchange bill. After a 13-year struggle and a rising toll from injection-related HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C infections, the New Jersey legislature last week passed legislation that would establish pilot needle exchange programs in up to six municipalities. Gov. Jon Corzine (D) signed it into law this week. With Delaware and Massachusetts also passing needle access bills this year, every state in the union now either has at least some needle exchange programs operating or allows injection drug users to obtain clean needles without a prescription.

The US Supreme Court upholds the right of American adherents of the Brazil-based church the Union of the Vegetable (UDV) to use a psychedelic tea (ayahuasca) containing a controlled substance in religious ceremonies. Using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a unanimous court held that the government must show a "compelling government interest" in restricting religious freedom and use "the least restrictive means" of furthering that interest. The February ruling may pave the way for marijuana spiritualists to seek similar redress.

The Vancouver safe injection site, Insite wins a new, if limited, lease on life. The pilot project site, the only one of its kind in North America, was up for renewal after its initial three-year run, and the Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper was ideologically opposed to continuing it, but thanks to a well-orchestrated campaign to show community and global support, the Harper government granted a one-year extension of the program. Some observers have suggested the limited extension should make the "worst of" list instead of the "best of," but keeping the site long enough to survive the demise of the Conservative government (probably this year) has to rank as a victory. So does the publication of research results demonstrating that the site saves lives, reduces overdoses and illness, and gets people into treatment without leading to increased crime or drug use.

The election of Evo Morales brings coca peace to Bolivia. When coca-growers union leader Morales was elected president in the fall of 2004, the country's coca farmers finally had a friend in high office. While previous years had seen tension and violence between cocaleros and the government's repressive apparatus, Morales has worked with the growers to seek voluntary limits on production and, with financial assistance from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, begun a program of research on the uses of coca and the construction of factories to turn it into tea or flour. All is not quiet -- there have been deadly clashes with growers in Las Yungas in recent months -- but the situation is greatly improved from previous years.

Brazil stops imprisoning drug users. Under a new drug law signed by President Luis Inacio "Lula" Da Silva in August, drug users and possessors will not be arrested and jailed, but cited and offered rehabilitation and community service. While the new "treatment not jail" law keeps drug users under the therapeutic thumb of the state, it also keeps them out of prison.

Italy reverses tough marijuana laws. Before its defeat this spring, the government of then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi toughened up Italy's previously relatively sensible drug laws, making people possessing more than five grams of marijuana subject to punishment as drug dealers. The new, left-leaning government of Premier Romano Prodi took and last month raised the limit for marijuana possession without penalty from five grams to an ounce. The Prodi government has also approved the use of marijuana derivatives for pain relief.

Half of prisoners in for drugs

Kathimerini (Greece)

Addicts 'get drugs from prisoners'

United States
icRenfrewshire (UK)

No New Prisons Campaign

Please join us in a preliminary meeting to begin planning to stop prison expansion in Washington State No New Prisons Campaign Monday, December 11, 2006 6:30pm-8:30pm 2111 E. Union St, Seattle, WA 98122 Light snacks, desserts and refreshments will be provided We will be building on alternatives to incarceration. Hear from others who are interested in preventing prison expansion. Do a power analysis to help us understand our challenge by: Identifying key players, policy makers, decision makers and systems on both sides of the prison expansion agenda. Continue the struggle for justice. No New Prisons Agenda (WA State Level): Introductions Meeting goals Good understanding of factors influencing prison expansion Preliminary campaign plan based on above understanding Preliminary team outreach Brief overview of research / statistics on WA State prison system Current prison system stats Prison expansion project currently in progress Future planned prison expansion Do power analysis as INPUT to campaign planning What is our agenda? What is their agenda? Define major economic, political and/or social conditions that impact Identify / assess decision makers over prison expansion Identify / assess major organized opposition Identify / assess organized groups and allies in support Identify / assess groups of people or communities most affected Develop a preliminary campaign plan to stop prison expansion What actions support decision makers who are allies? What actions block decision makers who are foes? What can be done to counter work of organized opposition? What can be done to support the work of allies? What can be done to assure that those most affected are involved? What types of public education are needed? What areas of the state need the most attention? What materials are needed to support our agenda? (I.E.: research, position papers, poster, flyers, media work, banners, etc.) Who is interested in participating in this campaign? Who else could we invite? Set date for next meeting for follow up and results (once a month) Comments Adjourn
Mon, 12/11/2006 - 6:30pm - 8:30pm
2111 E. Union Street
Seattle, WA 98122
United States

Prison Arts and Crafts Show

*** Prison made jewelry, clothing, leathercrafts and more at our special prison craft shows *** Join us at First Trinity Lutheran Church for our holiday Prison Arts and Crafts Show on Saturday, December 16, from 10 AM to 5 PM. You'll find the perfect holiday gift at prices you can afford, from jewelry, craft items, and art -- all created by prison inmates across America. Also enjoy live music by MudPie jazz trio and other musicians. Don't miss this free events sponsored by the Prison Art Gallery. Mastercard, Visa, Amex and Discover welcome. First Trinity Lutheran Church, 309 E Street NW, Washington DC (half block from the Judiciary Square metro). Call 202-393-1511 Our new Prison Art Gallery is packed with original art and prints for your holiday shopping needs. For the holidays, we're open every day. Monday to Friday, 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM, Saturday and Sunday 12:30 to 5:30 PM. Prison Art Gallery, 1600 K Street NW, Suite 501, Washington DC (one block from two metro stations, McPherson on Orange line and Farragut North on Red line) Volunteer opportunities - Want a preview of the arts and crafts to be featured in at the First Trinity Lutheran Church and Prison Art Gallery? Come to our volunteer sessions this week on Wednesday and Thursday, 1 to 8 PM. We'll be preparing new arts and crafts for the sales. Have fun helping out, labeling artists, affixing biographical information and more. Even if you can only drop by for a little while, we guarantee a fun and interesting time. This is happening at First Trinity Lutheran Church, 309 E Street NW, Washington, DC (half block from Judiciary Square Metro). Please call 202-393 -1511 for further information. Saturday and Sunday, 12:30 to 5:30 PM, the Prison Art Gallery, 1600 K Street NW, Suite 501, will have a special sale with many items at reduced prices, including our popular prison art t- shirts, CDs, holiday cards, and framed art prints. Whether you're looking for oil landscapes, pen and ink drawings of prison life, or acrlyic portraits, you'll find them at the Prison Art Gallery. The mission of the Prisons Foundation is to promote the arts and education in prison and alternatives to incarceration. Our Prison Art Gallery showcases the talent of men and women in prison while raising funds for these artists and for justice advocacy groups, includling victim assistance and prison reform organizations. Located three blocks from the White House, the Prisons Gallery of Art is served by two Metro stations (Farragut North on the Red Line, and Farragut West on the Orange and Blue Lines). Note that the entrance is on 16th Street, at the corner of K Street. Open Mon to Fri, 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM, and Saturday and Sunday, 12:30 to 5:30 PM (also open evenings and Sunday by appointment - groups welcome - admission is always free).
Sat, 12/16/2006 - 10:00am - 5:00pm
United States

Seven Million -- and Counting

The Bureau of Justice Statistics annual report on use of the criminal justice system has come out, and there is landmark grim news: There are now seven million people under criminal justice control -- in prison or jail, on probation, or or parole -- in the United States. I am having trouble finding a link to the report -- maybe it's not posted yet -- but Phil will be covering this in Drug War Chronicle tonight. So check back for more details on the bad news...
United States

China to reward individuals for reporting drugs-related crimes (People's Daily Online, China)

United States

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