Sentencing

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Ex-Pennsylvania Gov. Raymond Shafer dies

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
UPI
URL: 
http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/view.php?StoryID=20061213-111037-1930r

Miami chief's son gets 18 months in pot case

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
CNN
URL: 
http://www.cnn.com/2006/LAW/12/13/chief.son.ap/

U.S. Drug Czar Advises Canadian Officials On How To Destroy Canada

On the heels of reports that the U.S. is breaking its own incarceration records, The Vancouver Sun announces that Canadian officials are consulting with U.S. drug warriors in the hopes of revamping Canada's drug policy.

Canada's new Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who apparently doesn't read U.S. newspapers, seems to think we've got all the answers:

The strategy will focus on "a few key priority areas that the current government could focus and build on," such as "clandestine labs, marihuana grow operations, synthetic drugs," the document states. "Another key element of the proposed national strategy is the national awareness campaign for youth."

Yeah nothing scares kids away from drugs like government-sponsored propaganda. Possible ONDCP recommendations for a youth awareness campaign:

1. Switch it up periodically. Spend a few years telling kids that pot will make you shoot your friends, run over toddlers and get pregnant at parties. Then nail 'em with a "couch" ad claiming marijuana is "the safest thing in the world."

2. Don't answer the phone. It could be other branches of government calling for an update on your performance measures. Never let anyone measure your performance except you.

3. Make desperate appeals to pop culture. Start a blog, podcasts, online magazines and youtube videos. Find the Canadian Al Roker and get him to talk to the kids. Encourage people to use these resources by claiming they are popular.

4. Say awesome stuff. If government reports show that the program isn't working, try to confuse everyone by saying this: "It’s very difficult to tell whether Britney Spears bopping around on some Coca-Cola ad actually sold a single bottle of Coca-Cola. The groups that promote marijuana wouldn’t be criticizing it so much if they didn’t think it was effective."


To clarify, I'm in favor of discouraging young people from using drugs. But if I were implementing such a program, John Walters is the very last person on Earth whose input I would solicit. He voluntarily limited his ability to prevent real-world harms by focusing on the least harmful drug. And he demonstrated a lack of interest when results showed that the ads were counterproductive.

But it gets worse:

Harper also called for mandatory minimum sentences and large fines for serious drug offenders, including marijuana growing operators and "producers and dealers of crystal meth and crack."

Mandatory minimums
!? Even Drug Czar speech-writer Kevin Sabet is coming around on that. Mandatory minimums have nearly destroyed our criminal justice system. They take away judicial discretion, making grave injustices commonplace. They bloat our prisons with non-violent offenders and burden tax-payers with the costs. They empower bullying prosecutors and encourage innocent people to accept plea-bargains. And you just don't need mandatory minimums to send scumbags to jail.

Stephen Harper needs to slow down and familiarize himself with the problems we're having here before asking for drug policy advice from some of the most callous and willfully ignorant people to ever contemplate the subject. The problem with a terrible drug policy is that it's really hard to turn back the clock. Ever susceptible to drug hysteria, American politicians have repeatedly succumbed to the temptation of quick-fix lock-em-up solutions. Once implemented, destructive policies are sustained by the knowledge that a "soft on crime" label may await any legislator brave enough to question the status quo. Meanwhile, the world's wealthiest nation functions at a shrinking fraction of its potential.

And where will the Canadian people turn if the nightmare of American drug war barbarism is unleashed in their communities? They already live in Canada.

Location: 
United States

Commute This Sentence; A Clemency Case Not Even President Bush Can Ignore--Or Can He?

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
Washington Post
URL: 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/08/AR2006120801567.html

Pain Patients: Richard Paey Loses Appeal, Wheelchair-Bound Man to Remain in Prison

Richard Paey, the Florida pain patient serving a 25-year sentence as a drug dealer after being convicted of fraudulently obtaining pain medications, will remain in prison after losing an appeal Wednesday. Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld his conviction and sentence on a 2-1 vote.

But in a highly unusual act, the appeals court offered some sympathy and advice. Paey should seek a commutation of his sentence from the governor, the court suggested. "Mr Paey's argument about his sentence does not fall on deaf ears," wrote Judge Douglas Wallace, "but it falls on the wrong ears."

While the two judge majority in the case was sympathetic but said its hands were tied, the lone dissenter on the bench, Associate Judge James Seals, disagreed. In a blistering dissent, Seals made a multi-point case that Paey's mandatory minimum sentence was both "cruel and unusual" and absurd in light of the shorter sentences given for many real crimes. (Click here to read an excerpt.)

Paey who was severely injured in an automobile accident in the 1980s, was arrested by the DEA and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office after buying more than 1,200 pain pills with fake prescriptions. Although agents watched Paey roll up to pharmacies in his wheelchair to fill the prescriptions, he was charged as a drug dealer under a Florida law that says anyone possessing more than an ounce is a dealer. Paey rejected a plea bargain before he was tried, saying it was against his principles.

While other appeals remain open to Paey, his attorney, John Flannery II, told the St. Petersburg Times he would take the appeals court up on its suggestion. Flannery filed a commutation petition Wednesday. It's unlikely that outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush will act on it before his term ends as year's end, but Flannery said he wanted to start the process for Governor-elect Charlie Crist.

Drug Reform and the Democratic Congress: What's Going to Happen?

To hear the buzz in drug reform circles, Christmas came early this year. To be precise, it arrived on Election Day, when the Democrats took back control of the Congress. There is a whole long list of drug reform-related issues that the Democratically-controlled Congress can address, and hopes are high that after a dozen years of Republican rule on Capitol Hill, progress will come on at least some of them. But will the Democratic Congress really turn out to be Santa Claus, bestowing gifts on a movement long out in the cold, or will it turn out more like the Grinch, offering up tantalizing glimpses of the goodies only to snatch them away?

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/capitolsenateside.jpg
US Capitol, Senate side
Drug War Chronicle is trying to find out what's likely to happen, so we talked to a number of drug reform organizations, especially those with a strong federal lobbying presence and agenda, as well as with the offices of some of the representatives who will be playing key roles on Capitol Hill in the next Congress.

The list of drug war issues where Congress could act next year is indeed lengthy:

  • Sentencing reform -- whether addressing the crack-powder cocaine disparity or mandatory minimums or both, and other reforms;
  • Medical marijuana, either through the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment barring federal funds to raid patients and providers in states where it is legal or Barney Frank's states' rights to medical marijuana bill;
  • The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) is up for reauthorization;
  • The Higher Education Act (HEA) and its drug provision are up for reauthorization;
  • Removing drug offender restrictions from food stamp, public housing, and other social services;
  • The Washington, DC, appropriations bill, where Congress has barred the District from enacting needle exchange programs and a voter-approved medical marijuana law;
  • Plan Colombia;
  • The war in Afghanistan and US anti-opium policy;
  • The pain crisis and the war on pain doctors;
  • Prisoner reentry legislation, particularly the Second Chance Act;
  • Police raids.

While there is optimism in drug reform circles, it is tempered by a healthy dose of realism. The Congress is a place where it is notoriously difficult to make (or unmake) a law, and while some of the new Democratic leadership has been sympathetic on certain issues, drug reform is not exactly a high-profile issue. Whether congressional Democratic decision-makers will decide to use their political resources advancing an agenda that could be attacked as "soft on drugs" or "soft on crime" remains to be seen. But according to one of the movement's most astute Hill-watchers, some "low-hanging fruit" might be within reach next year.

"Some of the easiest things to achieve in the new Congress will be the HEA ban on aid to students with drug violations, because the Democrats will have to deal with HEA reauthorization, and the ban on access to the TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) to public housing, because they will have to deal with welfare reform," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "There is also a chance of repealing provisions in the DC appropriations bill that bar needle exchanges and medical marijuana. These are the low-hanging fruit."

For Piper, there is also a chance to see movement on a second tier of issues, including medical marijuana, sentencing reform and Latin America policy. "Can we get the votes to pass Hinchey-Rohrabacher in the House and get it to the Senate?" he asked. "There is also a good chance of completely changing how we deal with Latin America. We could see a shift in funding from military to civil society-type programs and from eradication to crop substitution," he said. "Also, there is a good chance on sentencing reform. Can the Democrats strike a deal with Sen. Sessions (R-AL) and other Republicans on the crack-powder disparity, or will they try to play politics and paint the Democrats as soft on crime? Would Bush veto it if it passed?"

Clearly, at this point, there are more questions than answers, and time will tell. But the political ground has shifted, Piper noted. "We are no longer playing defense," he argued. "Now we don't have to deal with folks like Souder and Sensenbrenner and all their stupid bills. This puts us in a really good position. For the first time in 12 years, we get to go on offense. And unlike a dozen years ago, the Democrats who will control the key committees are really, really good. This is probably the first time since the 1980s that drug policy reform has been in a position to go on the offensive."

Representatives sympathetic to drug law reform will fill key positions in the next Congress, led by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who will be the incoming chair of the crucial House Judiciary Committee. Replacing HEA drug provision author and leading congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) as chair of the important Government Reform Committee Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources will be either Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) or Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) -- the assignment isn't yet set -- while Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) will chair the Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, the key subcommittee when it comes to sentencing reform.

While it is too early to get firm commitments from committee heads on hearings next year, a spokesman for Rep. Conyers told Drug War Chronicle sentencing reform is definitely on the table. "Congressman Conyers is certainly interested in these issues, he's been quite outspoken on this, and it is something he will address, but we haven't come out with our agenda and we don't have a timeline yet," said House Judiciary Committee press officer Jonathan Godfrey. "But this will definitely be an issue for the committee," he added.

Conyers and the new Democratic Congress may not yet have established their agendas, but the drug reform movement certainly has, and sentencing reform, whether through addressing the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity or through a broader assault on the federal mandatory minimum sentencing scheme, is front and center. Perhaps not surprisingly, many leading reformers said addressing the crack-powder disparity was not enough.

"There's been a lot of discussion about eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, or even removing the definition of crack from the guidelines entirely," said DRCNet executive director Dave Borden. "We of course support that, but we also hope the issue of mandatory minimums themselves, and the sentencing guidelines, are also taken up. Those are far bigger problems, affecting far more people than that one controversial but small piece of them. It may be that only small changes are possible at this time, even with our best Congressional friends in important positions. Nevertheless, the opportunity should be taken to raise the larger sentencing issues, to organize around them, build support, attract cosponsors for mandatory minimum repeal bills, all the things that go with any legislative campaign -- what better time than now?"

"While we of course favor reforming the crack-powder cocaine disparity, we need to stop thinking small," said Julie Stewart, executive director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "We need to be looking at sentencing reform as a whole. We will be asking for legislation to address the crack-powder disparity, but we will also be asking for hearings on the repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing," she said. "Whether we can get that is another question, but it's time to ask for the sky."

Stewart's sentiments were echoed and amplified by Nora Callahan, executive director of The November Coalition, a drug reform group that concentrates on winning freedom for federal drug war prisoners. "What we need is an omnibus crime bill," Callahan said. "Otherwise we'll be picking this thing apart for the next five decades. An omnibus bill would open the door to broad hearings where we could address the myriad negative effects of the drug war, from imprisoning huge numbers of people to depriving students of loans and poor people of housing and other federal benefits, and from police corruption to police violence. If we try to deal with all these problems one by one, the prison population will have doubled again by the time we get it done."

Of course, sentencing reform isn't the only drug policy issue activists will be pushing next year. Medical marijuana remains on the agenda, with the biggest push likely to be around the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would bar the use of federal funds to raid patients and providers in states where it is legal. "We will be looking for meaningful protections for medical marijuana patients," said Aaron Houston, director of government relations at the Marijuana Policy Project. "We will judge progress by the extent to which patients can use the medicine that works best for them without fear of federal arrest or prosecution. We need meaningful reforms, not ones that sound meaningful but are not, like rescheduling," he added.

"Our legislative priorities in the past have been Hinchey-Rohrabacher, the states' rights to medical marijuana bill, and the Truth in Trials Act, which would allow for an affirmative defense in federal court," said Houston. "Of these, we expect that we should be able to pass Hinchey. Last year, we had 167 votes, and we picked up 19 new members in November who we think are supportive. And when Speaker-elect Pelosi assumes the gavel in January, it will be the first time we have a strong medical marijuana supporter at the helm of the House of Representatives."

Those numbers are encouraging, but not quite enough to win yet. It takes 218 votes to win a majority in the House if everyone votes.

And as DPA's Piper noted above, the HEA reauthorization bill next year should be a good opportunity to finally kill Souder's drug provision once and for all. "We have a tremendous opportunity here with the Democrats taking control and deciding which legislation moves forward," said Tom Angell, communications director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). "Rep. George Miller (D-CA) will chair the House Education Work Force Committee, and he's a cosponsor of the RISE Act. Also, one of our biggest supporters, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), is in line to chair the subcommittee that handles higher education, which is where the RISE Act sits right now."

But Andrews may not end up with the chairmanship, Angell warned. "He's a supporter of for-profit colleges, and the Democratic leadership doesn't like that, so he might not get it," he said.

"We'd like to see the HEA drug provision repealed, and we think it's possible in the new Congress," said DRCNet's Borden. "There just isn't a lot of passion from very many members of Congress for keeping the provision, even among those who have voted to do so. We'd like to see legislation to repeal similar provisions in welfare and public housing law -- we have a coalition of over 250 organizations that have signed on to repealing the HEA drug provision, and activating that network and building it to take on more issues is definitely on our agenda."

The RISE (Removing Impediments to Students' Education) Act would repeal the Higher Education Act's (HEA) drug provision, SSDP's key congressional goal. While Angell was optimistic about prospects in the next Congress, he was also looking for early indicators. "The introduction of the bill, the number of cosponsors, and the top names behind it will be a good indication of how likely we are to repeal the penalty," he said. "I'm looking for that to happen early in the session. We had 84 lobbying meetings on Capitol Hill during our annual conference last month, and we will be following up on those and working closely with the staff of the education committee."

But repealing the HEA drug provision isn't SSDP's only goal on Capitol Hill, said Angell. "We are hoping to be working with DPA and MPP to reduce or eliminate funding for the ONDCP media campaign and we will be working to reduce or eliminate funding for student drug testing grants," he explained. "Besides HEA, those are our big issues."

One issue that has emerged as a hot topic in recent weeks is the issue of police violence. With the killing of Atlanta senior citizen Kathryn Johnson in a "no-knock" drug raid and the killing of New York City resident Sean Bell a few days later in a volley of more than 50 shots fired by NYPD officers, policing in America is under the spotlight. Civil rights activist and former presidential candidate the Rev. Al Sharpton called this week for congressional hearings on the issue. Sharpton said he had already been in contact with Rep. Conyers about the possibility.

That's something DRCNet's Borden would like to see, too. "We'd like to see action taken to rein in these paramilitary police forces and not have SWAT teams breaking down people's doors in the middle of the night when there is not an emergency situation. I think there should be hearings in Congress, as well as state legislatures, with victims of bad drug raids playing a prominent role, as well as police experts, civil rights experts, and the like. We are considering launching a petition calling for all of this," he said.

And then there is the US drug war abroad. With Plan Colombia about to enter its seventh year, and the flow of cocaine unabated despite massive aerial spraying of herbicides, congressional Democrats will seek to cut back or redirect US spending to emphasize development instead of drug war. And although Congress has not yet come to grips with the serious contradictions inherent in waging war on poppies at the same time it seeks to wage a war on terror in Afghanistan, facts on the ground suggest it will be unable to continue to ignore them.

This should be a year of change in our drug policy abroad, said DRCNet's Borden. "We'd like to see the coca and opium eradication programs stopped. They are useless; all they do is move the cultivation from place to place," he noted. "In Afghanistan, it's driving people into the arms of the Taliban for protection, and that's disastrous for our national interests and potentially for global security. There are credible plans put forward, by the UN and other international bodies, and by experts in the nonprofit sector, that don't rely on eradication; let's look at those."

Borden also urged Congress to act to address the crisis in pain care in the context of the administration's war on prescription drug abuse and prosecutions of pain doctors. "Last but not least, something must be done about the pain doctor prosecutions," he said. "I believe the law in this area has been fundamentally warped. Conyers has supported important work being done in this area. Now he's in a position to kick it up a notch."

Drug reformers have a mighty busy agenda for Congress in the next two years. Congressional Democrats have said they are interested in reforms; now that they will be in power, we will see if they are as good as their word and we will have the chance to prod them to act.

Sentencing: US Supreme Court Rules for Immigrants in Drug Possession Deportation Case

In a decision issued Tuesday, the US Supreme Court made it easier for some immigrants convicted of drug possession under state laws to avoid deportation. Under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, immigrants convicted of an aggravated felony face mandatory deportation. In this case, the court held that even if a conviction for drug possession is considered a felony under state law, if it is not considered a felony under the federal Controlled Substances Act, it cannot be an aggravated felony for immigration purposes.

The ruling came in the case of Lopez v. Gonzalez. Jose Antonio Lopez, who was born in Mexico, was a 16-year legal permanent resident of the US with a wife and children and a family business when he was arrested in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and charged with aiding and abetting cocaine possession. Under South Dakota law, that's a felony. Lopez pled guilty and was sentenced to five years in state prison. Upon finishing his prison sentence, he was deported to Mexico in January 2006.

Lopez appealed his deportation by an Immigration and Naturalization Service judge, but in a 2005 opinion, the US 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis denied him. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and now Lopez has a chance to come back to his new home in the US.

The ruling came on an 8-1 vote, with Justice Clarence Thomas alone in the dissent.

The Bush administration argued that Congress left the door open to counting such offenses as aggravated felonies, but Justice David Souter, who wrote the opinion, and the court weren't buying it. In a passage where he accused the government of "incoherence," Souter added that "the government's way... would often turn simple possession into trafficking, just what the English language tells us not to expect and that result makes us very wary of the government's position."

With some 12 million permanent resident immigrants living in the country, the Lopez ruling is likely to affect thousands of immigrants with minor drug-related convictions.

Sentencing: US Supreme Court Lets Stand Pot Dealer's 55-Year Mandatory Minimum Sentence

The US Supreme Court Monday refused to hear an appeal of a 55-year mandatory minimum sentence for a Salt Lake City marijuana dealer who carried a pistol in his boot during his transactions. The decision not to hear the case disappointed observers in the legal community who hoped it would lead to a constitutional review of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

Weldon Angelos was a would-be rap music empresario and father of two children who also peddled pot. He was indicted on multiple marijuana distribution charges and, because of the gun in his boot, multiple charges of possession of a weapon during the commission of a felony. There is no evidence Angelos ever shot or killed anyone with his weapon, or even brandished it. But federal law requires a mandatory five-year sentence for a first weapons count, followed by mandatory 25-year sentences for each additional count.

Angelos refused a plea deal and was found guilty of the marijuana dealing counts and three weapons counts. When sentencing Angelos to the mandatory minimum 55 years in 2002, US Circuit Court Judge Paul Cassell issued a lengthy opinion protesting the injustice of sentencing the 26-year-old to a life behind bars.

Angelos appealed, but in a January 2005 opinion, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver rejected his argument that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishments. When he appealed to the Supreme Court, Angelos was joined by more than 140 top former justice officials from across the country, including four former US attorneys general, a former FBI director and other former federal judges and prosecutors who sided with him in a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the court in October.

By refusing to take the case, the Supreme Court has signaled that it views decades-long prison sentences for nonviolent marijuana dealers as okay, and that wasn't okay with a substantial segment of the legal community. "We are very disappointed that the Supreme Court refused to hear this case in which a low-level marijuana offender received what is effectively a life sentence," said Jeff Sklaroff, an attorney representing the group that filed the brief, in remarks reported by the Deseret News.

Angelos' attorneys were similarly unhappy. "We are extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court did not agree to hear the case," University of Utah law professor Erik Luna said. "This case presented a great opportunity for the Supreme Court not only to correct this miscarriage of justice but also to clarify the scope of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment."

"We hope that Congress will realize the injustice caused by its mandatory-minimum scheme and dispose of it without the court having to intervene," said attorneys Troy Booher and Michael Zimmerman, a former chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court, in a statement Tuesday.

But federal prosecutors were happy. "We are pleased that the Supreme Court denied the petition," US Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman said. "Congress has determined that armed drug trafficking is a particularly serious offense that warrants severe punishment."

Now, Angelos is facing decades in prison. He can appeal his conviction and sentence in a writ of habeas corpus, but such an appeal would go before the same courts that have already upheld them. Or he can seek a presidential pardon.

Or, when sanity finally comes to American drug sentencing practices, we can make sure to write in retroactivity for still-serving prisoners like Angelos.

Supreme Court Lets Stand 55-Year Term

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/04/AR2006120400355.html

Sentencing: Correctional Supervision At All-Time High With Over Seven Million People Tied to the System

According to the latest annual reports from the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the number of people in the United States behind bars or on parole or probation has jumped to an all-time high. More than seven million people are enjoying the tender mercies of state and federal criminal justice systems, the statistical agency reported.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/prisondorm.jpg
prison dorm
In a pair of reports released Thursday -- one on the number of people in jail or prison at the end of 2005 and one on the number of people on probation or parole at the end of 2005 -- BJS found that drug offenders make up about 20% of all state prisoners (251,000 out of 1.25 million) and about 55% of federal prisoners (87,000 out of 158,000 -- at the end of 2003, the latest stats available from the feds). In both cases, the numbers show a slight downward trend in the number of drug prisoners as a percentage of all prisoners.

The prison and jail population continues to grow. State prison populations increased by 1.9% during 2005, while the federal system grew by 4%. In the federal system, drug offenders were responsible for 49% of the growth in the prisoner population. Overall, at the end of 2005, nearly 2.2 million people were behind bars in the US, or one out of every 136 residents.

The states with the fastest growing prison populations were South Dakota (up 12%), Montana (up 11%), and Kentucky (up 10%). Eleven additional states had increases of more than 5%, while 11 other states reported decreases in their prison populations.

Some 672,000 people were released from prison in 2005, surely contributing to the 784,000 parolees in the country. Additionally, more than 4.15 million people are on probation, 28% of them for drug offenses. That means more than 1.1 million people are being supervised by the criminal justice system for ingesting, possessing, or trading in the wrong substances.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/bjsgraph.jpg
"I think these numbers just don't register with most Americans," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "They only make sense when you point out that the United States has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's incarcerated population; that we rank first in the world in locking up our fellow citizens; and that we now imprison more people for drug law violations than all of western Europe -- with a much larger population -- incarcerates for all offenses. Imagine what a difference it would make if we just stopped locking up people for nonviolent drug offenses," he added.

"I spent 12 years behind bars for a first time nonviolent offense," said Anthony Papa, communications specialist at the Drug Policy Alliance." Many of the people I met were serving long sentences behind bars on drug charges and were not major drug dealers. They were people who sold drugs to support a habit. These individuals, their families and society would have benefited from receiving treatment, not jail time."

Another year, another record number of prisoners, probationers, and parolees.

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