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Will Foster Extradited to Oklahoma

Medical marijuana patient Will Foster is en route to prison in Oklahoma after being picked up Friday by Oklahoma law enforcement officials. He had been held at the Sonoma County Jail in Santa Rosa, California, for the past 15 months as he fought bogus marijuana cultivation charges there--he was a registered patient with a legal grow--and, after the California charges were dropped, on a parole violation warrant from the Sooner State. Foster had been arrested and convicted of growing marijuana in Oklahoma and sentenced to 93 years in prison in the 1990s. After that draconian sentence focused national attention on his case, he was eventually resentenced to 20 years in prison. He later won parole and moved to California, where he served three years on parole and was discharged from parole by California authorities. That wasn't good enough for vindictive Oklahoma authorities, who wanted to squeeze more years out of Foster. He refused to sign Oklahoma paperwork requiring him to return there to serve out the remainder of his sentence. He also refused to sign paperback that extended his original service. Oklahoma authorities issued a parole violation warrant, and the governors of both states signed it. Foster had sought to block extradition by filing a writ of habeas corpus--he had won a similar writ against Oklahoma earlier--but that effort failed on Friday, and Oklahoma authorities were there to whisk him away. Foster is scheduled to be held at the Tulsa County Jail before being assigned to a prison in the Oklahoma gulag. Efforts by Foster supporters to secure his release continue and are now focusing on Oklahoma parole authorities and the state governor. For more information about the Foster case, see our Chronicle story here and at Ed Rosenthal's blog here. Drug War Chronicle will continue to follow the Foster case. Look for a feature article next week.

I Was Turned Away Again Trying to Visit Medical Marijuana POW Will Foster in Jail Last Night

You remember Will Foster: The Oklahoma arthritis sufferer who was sentenced to 93 years in prison for growing a closetful of pot plants, eventually got his sentence reduced to 20 years, got paroled to California, and finished parole there, but whom neanderthal Oklahoma parole officials want to drag back to that benighted state to extract yet another pound of flesh. Will has been sitting in the Sonoma County Jail for 16 months now after a bogus bust of his legitimate medical marijuana garden. The local charges were eventually dropped, but Foster remains behind bars and deprived of his liberty because of Oklahoma's pending parole violation extradition warrant. The extradition warrant has been signed by the governors of both California and Oklahoma, but either could end this tragedy by rescinding his signature. Those are the two obvious political pressure points. Will has fended off extradition by filing a writ of habeas corpus (he won an earlier one), but that means he stays in jail in California for as long as it takes to resolve that--unless one of those governors acts. I wrote about his plight here. Ed Rosenthal has organized a campaign to Free Will Foster. Go there and do what he asks. So, anyway, I went to see Will last night. It was my second attempt to visit him. I was turned away a few nights ago because I was wearing steel-tipped shoes. Who knew? Well, I didn't see him last night, either. After his girlfriend, Susie Mueller, and I arrived at 7:15 to get in line for the 7:30 sign-in for the visits set for 8:15, then waited before getting in line for the actual 8:15 visit, the whole place went into lockdown. We waited awhile to see if the lockdown would be quickly lifted, but it wasn't, so we left. I'll try again next week. Sheesh, it's starting to feel like it's as hard to break into one of these joints as it is to break out.

Feature: Censorship in South Dakota -- Marijuana Activist Silenced By Judge as Condition of Probation

For most of this decade, Bob Newland has been the voice of marijuana law reform in South Dakota. The photographer and Black Hills resident has organized Hempfests, lobbied for reform legislation in the state capitol, relentlessly crisscrossed the state from the Black Hills to the Sioux Valley, and organized medical marijuana petition drives. He is the director of South Dakota NORML and founder of South Dakotans for Safe Access. As a marijuana reform activist, Newland has been unstoppable -- until now.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/bobnewland.jpg
Bob Newland
Newland was arrested earlier this year after being pulled over while driving for carrying slightly under four ounces of marijuana on what his lawyer described as a "mission of mercy." Originally charged with possession with intent to distribute, the veteran activist accepted a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to possession of under a half-pound of marijuana, an offense that carries a sentence of up to two years in the state penitentiary. Prosecutors agreed to make no sentencing recommendations.

On Monday, Newland appeared in court in Rapid City to learn his fate. Judge John Delaney didn't throw the book at him -- he was sentenced to one year in jail, with all but 45 days suspended -- but threw him a curveball instead. While under the court's supervision for the next year, Newland must not exercise his First Amendment right to advocate for marijuana law reform in South Dakota.

According to the Rapid City Journal, which had a reporter in the courtroom, Judge Delaney had two issues with Newland's marijuana reform advocacy. He was determined that Newland not appear to have gotten off lightly, and he did not want Newland's words to encourage young people to drink or use drugs.

"You are not going to take a position as a public figure who got a light sentence," Delaney warned Newland before talking about how juvenile courts are packed with kids who have drug problems. "Ninety-five percent of my chronic truants are using pot," Delaney said.

The no free speech probation condition raised ire and eyebrows not only in South Dakota, but across the land. Concerns are being expressed not only by drug reformers and civil libertarians, but also by legal scholars.

"Surrendering our First Amendment rights cannot be a condition of probation," said Allen Hopper, litigation director for the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. "The Constitution clearly protects the right to advocate for political change without fear of criminal consequence. It is a shame that the court feels obligated to muzzle protected speech in a misguided effort to guard society from unfounded fears of open debate. Bob Newland is just the latest victim of a baseless drug policy that continues to clog our prisons and trample our rights."

"Courts impose conditions on probationers all the time, but this sort of condition is very unusual," said Chris Hedges, professor of law at the University of South Dakota. "People ought to be able to argue that the law should be changed, but now he can't do that. We always have to be concerned when someone's speech is infringed," she said.

"Bob is a classic example of an individual activist who was one of the lone activists in the whole state and who now knows smartly the pains of prohibition," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of national NORML. "Those of us familiar with South Dakota laws and practices were not surprised with the jail time, but clamping down on First Amendment rights is something else. Judges put all kinds of restrictions on people on probation, but they don't usually say you can't engage in First Amendment activity."

It was precisely Newland's role as the face of marijuana reform in the state that earned the censorious probation, St. Pierre said. "Bob's pot bust was hardly an aberration, but the judge recognized he had the state's leading reefer rabble rouser in front of him. Had the judge had Joe Blow in front of him, I can't imagine that he would be saying you can't talk to anybody about this."

"It's appalling," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "I can't imagine any reason why anyone should, as part of a criminal sentence, be barred from arguing that the law he was arrested on is wrong and should be changed. This is profoundly troubling. Whatever you think of the individual or the law, we do have something called the First Amendment, and it should apply to Mr. Newland as well as anyone else. I can't imagine how the people of South Dakota could be endangered by allowing Mr. Newland to advocate for what he believes in."

"It's really sad what happened to Bob on Monday," said Emmett Reistroffer, who has stepped up to take Newland's place as leader of South Dakotans for Safe Access, which currently has a signature gathering drive under way to get a medical marijuana initiative on the 2010 ballot. "I've never heard of that before in my life. I'm not an attorney, but the first thing I think is what basis does the judge have for depriving someone of their First Amendment rights?"

Newland himself was surprised at the probation condition, but uncertain as to whether it was worth fighting. In what may be his last words on the subject -- for the next year, anyway -- he told the Chronicle he feared the "negative effects" of challenging it. In other words, he doesn't want to get thrown in jail for even longer than he will already have to serve.

"This seems to me to be a quite unusual sentence provision, of a sort I have never encountered in all my years of activism and watching other people get sentenced for illegal substances. It certainly plays at the edges of suppression of speech of the sort we expect to see in totalitarian countries," he said. "Judge Delaney wanted to make a statement with the sentence, and he surely did. If I were inclined to fight the provision, the immediate negative effects on my life would almost certainly outweigh any gain I could accomplish. Therefore, I must say that I accept the judge's decision in the same light that I accept all the other provisions of the sentence. If this statement so far hasn't taken me over the boundaries of taking a 'public role' in reform advocacy, I'd probably better wait a year to add to it."

But Newland may not be silenced just yet. Those words were written Wednesday, before the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project had a chance to discuss the issue with him. That organization is definitely interested in pursuing the case. If Newland wants to move forward with challenging the no free speech provision, drug reform groups will stand with him, said St. Pierre and Mirken.

"Drug policy reform groups have an immediate interest in this case," said St. Pierre. "It sets a terrible precedent and is such an aberration to be told what political subjects you can talk about. The right to exercise political speech is the fulcrum this will turn on."

Newland may also gain some reassurance from law professor Hutton. Newland should be free to challenge the no free speech condition without fear of legal reprisal, said Hutton. "If he just filed something to challenge that, it cannot be used against him," she said.

Ironically, the judge's probation condition may prove to be a boon to the movement in South Dakota, said St. Pierre. "Just the fact that this has happened has caught the attention of people around the world," he said. "Painful as this is, Bob is now probably going to raise the profile of this debate higher than 10 years of wearing out shoe leather -- and without saying a word."

I went to visit Will Foster in Jail A Couple of Nights Ago

I wrote about the Will Foster case in the Chronicle last week. Here's a brief summary: Foster had a small medical marijuana garden in Tulsa that was raided in 2005. Two years later, he was sentenced to an insane 93 YEARS in prison. Only after a publicity campaign in which DRCNet played a vital role was he resentenced to merely 20 years, and after being twice denied parole, he was paroled to California. Although Oklahoma thought Foster should be on parole until 2011, California decided he didn't need any more state supervision and released him from parole after three years. That wasn't punitive enough for Oklahoma. Although Foster had left the Bible Belt state behind with no intention of ever returning, Oklahoma parole officials issued a parole violation warrant for his extradition to serve out the remainder of his sentence. When Foster had to show ID in a police encounter, the warrant popped up, and he was jailed. Desperate, Foster filed a writ of habeas corpus and won! A California judge ruled the warrant invalid, and Foster was a free man again. But not for long. It's thirst for vengeance still unslaked, the state of Oklahoma issued yet another parole violation warrant for Foster's extradition because he refused to agree to an extension of his parole to 2015--four years past the original Oklahoma parole date. Then he got raided in California, thanks to bad information from an informant with an axe to grind. Foster had a legal medical marijuana grow, but it took a hard-headed Sonoma County prosecutor more than a year to drop charges, and Foster has been jailed the whole time. Now that the charges have been dropped, Foster still isn't free because Oklahoma still wants him back. Extradition warrants have been signed by the governors of both states, and he was days away from being extradited in shackles when he filed a new habeas writ this week. Filing the writ will stop him from being sent back to Oklahoma, but it also means he's stuck in jail for the foreseeable future. The writ is a legal strategy; his real best hope is to get one of those governors to rescind the extradition order. You can help. Click on this link to find out how to write the governors. I think a campaign of letters to the editor of Oklahoma papers might help, too. Those letters might ask why Oklahoma wants to continue to spend valuable tax dollars to persecute a harmless man whose only crime was to try to get some relief for his ailments--and who has no intention of ever returning there. ...So, anyway, I went to see Will at the Sonoma County Jail Saturday night. But I didn't get in. The steel-toes in my footwear set off the metal detector, and I quickly found out such apparel was a security risk. Who knew? I'll go back later this week. I guess I'll wear sandals. In the meantime, there are letters waiting to be written. Keyboard commandos, saddle up!

Sentencing: Louisiana Bill to Allow Parole for Heroin Lifers Passes Full House, Senate Committee

From the 1970s until 2000, anyone caught possessing, distributing, or producing heroin in Louisiana was eligible for a prison sentence of life without parole. After the legislature changed the law, those penalties were reduced to five to 50 years in prison, with the possibility of parole, but that legislation did not deal with the remaining heroin lifers, who stay behind bars while people convicted since then do their time and go home.

Now, a bill that would redress that injustice has passed the Louisiana House, and on Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved it, too. The bill, HB 630, would allow heroin lifers to seek parole after they have served at least 15 years.

"It is a matter of basic fairness," Pete Adams, executive director of the District Attorneys Association, told the committee. The association supports the bill.

State Rep. Walt Leger III (D-New Orleans) said the average sentence for heroin offenses these days is five years. Keeping the heroin lifers in prison costs the state too much money, he added.

The legislature has killed similar proposals in recent years, including last year, when the House defeated it 44-48. This year it passed the House 57-29. Legislators had said the heroin lifers should seek review at the Louisiana Risk Review Panel, which reviews the cases of nonviolent offenders to assess how dangerous they would be if released.

But even if the panel recommends a reduction, only the governor has the power to commute sentences. Governors typically "are not into signing these things," testified Rep. Cedric Richmond.

Incarceration: Too Many Americans Behind Bars at Too High a Cost, Says Pew Study

American states spent about $52 billion on corrections last year, the vast majority of it on prisons, and that's not smart, the Pew Center on the States said in a report released Monday. As a cost saving measure in a time of fiscal crisis at the statehouses, states should instead emphasize spending on community corrections.

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overcrowding at Mule Creek State Prison (cdcr.ca.gov)
The study, 1 in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections, reported that one in every 31 Americans is in jail or prison or on probation or parole. That's more than 7 million people under state supervision, and that's more than double the rate 25 years ago. The report adds that the real figure may be closer to 8 million because the numbers don't include people under state supervision in pre-trial diversion programs, such as drug courts.

The rates of correctional control vary by race and geography. One in eleven black adults (9.2%) are enjoying the tender mercies of the state, compared to one in 27 Hispanics (3.7%) and one in 45 whites (2.2%). With one of every 13 adults behind bars or on probation or parole, Georgia has the highest percentage of its population under surveillance, followed by Idaho, Texas, Massachusetts, Ohio, and the District of Columbia.

"Violent and career criminals need to be locked up, and for a long time. But our research shows that prisons are housing too many people who can be managed safely and held accountable in the community at far lower cost," said Adam Gelb, director of the Center's Public Safety Performance Project, which produced the report.

But while prisons account for about 90% of the overall correction budget in the states, two-thirds of offenders are on probation or parole, not behind bars. Pressures to cut community corrections spending in the current crisis are penny wise but pound foolish, said the report.

"New community supervision strategies and technologies need to be strengthened and expanded, not scaled back," Gelb argued. "Cutting them may appear to save a few dollars, but it doesn't. It will fuel the cycle of more crime, more victims, more arrests, more prosecutions, and still more imprisonment."

The study recommended that states:

  • Sort offenders by risk to public safety to determine appropriate levels of supervision;
  • Base intervention programs on sound research about what works to reduce recidivism;
  • Harness advances in supervision technology such as electronic monitoring and rapid-result alcohol and drug tests;
  • Impose swift and certain sanctions for offenders who break the rules of their release but who do not commit new crimes; and
  • Create incentives for offenders and supervision agencies to succeed, and monitor their performance.

The report did not address the role of drug prohibition in swelling the nation's prison population, nor did it question whether drug offenders should be arrested in the first place, let alone placed under state surveillance or imprisoned.

Feature: Is This the Year New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws Will Be Repealed?

For more than 35 years, New York state has had the dubious distinction of having some of the country's worst drug laws, the Rockefeller drug laws passed in 1973. While pressure has mounted in the past decade to repeal those draconian laws, the reforms made to them in 2004 and 2005 have proven disappointing. But now, in what could be a perfect storm for reform, all the pieces for doing away with the Rockefeller drug laws appear to be falling into place.

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June 2003 ''Countdown to Fairness'' rally against the Rockefeller drug laws, NYC (courtesy 15yearstolife.com)
New York is now governed by an African American, David Paterson, who was arrested in an act of civil disobedience against the Rockefeller drug laws and who has vowed to reform them. The Democratic leader of the state Assembly, Sheldon Silver, is on board for serious reforms. And for the first time in years, Democrats also control the state Senate. Add to that mix the budgetary crisis in which the state finds itself, and it would appear that this is the year reform or repeal could actually happen.

But it hasn't happened yet -- no bills have even been filed -- and there is opposition to real reform, mostly from district attorneys, representatives whose upstate districts depend on prisons as a jobs program, and the law enforcement establishment. Those folks may latch onto pseudo-reforms as a means of blocking real reform.

Their handbook could be the State Sentencing Commission report issued this week. That report, commissioned by Gov. Paterson last year, calls for marginal reforms in sentencing and parole, as well as limited judicial discretion, but leaves too much power in the hands of prosecutors, said reform advocates.

"The Sentencing Commission proposal was positive in that it would return some judicial discretion in limited cases," said Caitlin Dunklee, coordinator of the Rockefeller repeal coalition Drop the Rock. "But we hope and will press for more sweeping and meaningful reform of the Rockefeller laws. This report was the product of a commission composed of many prosecutors and corrections people, and it does not go far enough."

"I can't believe at this particular moment that they would put this out," said Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) New York state office. "Not only does it not include real reforms to the Rockefeller Drug Laws, but it takes a step backward," Sayegh continued. "The commission acted as though the political climate we're in is not happening. It's like they drafted this thing from a cave."

DPA wants judicial discretion and treatment programs, which are included in the Sentencing Commission report, Sayegh said. "The problem is that when you dig into the details of the recommendations, what they are actually saying is that their version of judicial discretion, expanding treatment, and expanding diversion opportunities are all crafted out of the prosecutorial perspective. Prosecutors would maintain their leading roles and their diversion criteria would eliminate half the people from even being considering for it. That's the substance of our objections to the report," Sayegh said.

While Sayegh criticized Gov. Paterson for allowing the commission to "continue with its bumbling," he also took heart from Paterson's non-response to the report's release. "Paterson was going to hold a public event around the release, but that got changed to a press conference, and then even that got cancelled," he noted. "We see that as a good sign, an indication that he will not lend his backing to this report."

Instead, Sayegh said, a much better starting point would be the report issued two weeks ago by Assembly leader Sheldon Silver, Breaking New York's Addiction to Prison: Reforming New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws. In that report, Silver laid out the "principles" of reform:

  • Ilegal drugs should remain illegal. Adults who sell drugs to children, individuals who use guns in drug deals, and drug kingpins deserve harsh punishment.
  • Mandatory minimum sentences for low-level offenders must go. Mandating that judges sentence drug users and very low level street sellers to state prison has not impacted crime or reduced addiction but, rather, has led to a massive increase in New York's prison population with a disproportionate number of Latinos and African-Americans being incarcerated.
  • Real judicial discretion means an end to mandatory minimum prison sentences for Class B felony drug offenses and second time, nonviolent drug offenders and the placing of an equal emphasis on alternatives to incarceration and treatment. Except for the most serious crimes, judges in New York already have the discretion to fashion appropriate sentences for criminal acts. Judges should have the ability to make an informed decision whether circumstances warrant imposing a state prison sentence in drug crimes just as they do in cases of many assault, larceny, property damage and any number of other crimes.
  • District Attorneys should continue to play a key role in the process, but they should not be able to veto a judge's discretion. Indeed, to the extent there are district attorney-sponsored initiatives, such as Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison (DTAP) programs that have proven success rates with the limited populations they serve, judges will have the discretion to continue them.
  • Existing maximum determinate sentences for first and second class B level felony and below offenders should be maintained so that if a judge decided circumstances warrant, those who commit the crime will do serious time.

Partial reforms like those achieved in 2004 and 2005 are not going to cut it, said Caitlan Dunklee. "The reforms in 2004 and 2005 failed across the board... the only positive thing about them was that a few hundred people got to go home to their families, but they failed to address the underlying inequities of the Rockefeller drug laws. Specifically, they failed to return any discretion to judges, perpetuating the one size fits all justice that has led to huge levels of incarceration in New York."

The 2004 and 2005 reforms can be judged by their fruits. According to a Drop the Rock 2008 fact sheet, 5,657 people were sent to prison in 2004 for nonviolent drug offenses. That number increased to 5,835 in 2005, 6,039 in 2006, and 6,148 in 2007. About 40% of drug offenders behind bars in New York, some 5,300 people, are doing time simply for drug possession. And more than half of all drug offenders behind bars are doing time for the lowest level drug felonies, which involve only tiny amount of drugs. For example, it takes only a half-gram of cocaine to be charged with a Class D possession felony. More than 1,200 people are currently locked up for that offense.

So, is 2009 the year that real reform (or outright repeal) of the Rockefeller drug laws will happen? DPA thinks so, and held a conference two weeks ago to help make it happen. New Directions for New York: A Public Health and Safety Approach to Drug Policy brought together numerous drug policy stakeholders in an effort to break the grasp of the criminal justice template on drug policy.

"This was the first time in state history where we had stakeholders ranging from the Medical Society of New York to needle exchange providers to people who actively use injection drugs and do outreach to reduce HIV to academics, prosecutors, and elected officials," said Sayegh. Although New York has good drug policy programs -- harm reduction offices, overdose prevention strategies in place -- the overall discussion is still framed too much by the criminal justice perspective, Sayegh said.

"There is an apparatus in place to lead the charge for more progressive drug policies, but the discussion is framed by the Rockefeller laws," he said. "At this conference, stakeholders who are focused on the Rockefeller laws met with groups who focus on treatment, harm reduction, and medical research. We used the four-pillars approach pioneered by Vancouver, which for many people was a new concept. This allowed them to look at drug policy and reform from a new conceptual perspective, and that's part of what will bring about change."

Sayegh is guardedly optimistic about the prospects for reform this year. "In the past, we hadn't been able to move forward because the prosecutors controlled the language and logic of the debate," he noted. "But now, we can provide the legislature with new language and a new framework, the logic of public health, not criminal justice. This will make the legislature much more willing to move on reform proposals. Who doesn't like public health?"

"I'm very optimistic," said Drop the Rock's Dunklee. "I think we'll see a progressive piece of legislation get passed this year that will include meaningful restoration of judicial discretion in drug cases. Hopefully, it will also include an expansion of funding for alternative to incarceration programs like job training and drug treatment."

Not everyone was so sanguine. "I'm optimistic that something will happen, but I don't think its going to be as profound as everyone would like," said Randy Credico of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, which has been part of the Rockefeller repeal effort for years. "That's because there is no street movement anymore, not a lot of grassroots pressure.

While mobilizations in 2004 and 2005 put tens of thousands of people on the street calling for reform, the minor reforms achieved then took the steam out of the mass movement, Credico argued. "Some people thought incremental change would work then," he said, "but we said it's better to get no loaf than half a loaf. That way, the pressure would remain and build. But we got half a loaf, and four years later, all these guys are still in jail and all the air has gone out of the movement."

"And it's not just the Rockefeller drug laws -- we need to completely overhaul the criminal justice system, from sentencing to the appointment of judges to judge-shopping by prosecutors to racial profiling to banning stop and frisk searches. People need to focus on the overall criminal justice system, or just as many people will be going to prison as we have now."

Drop the Rock's Dunklee begged to differ with Credico over the state of the mass movement for reform. "Drop the Rock is the statewide campaign for repeal, and we haven't gone away," she said. "There is a movement. The 25,000 signatures we've gathered on our petition for repeal is a sign of that. Last year, we took more than 300 people up to Albany, and we will do it again this year."

Still, Dunklee conceded, the partial reforms of 2004 and 2005 did take a lot of air out of the movement. "The media spun that like they were real reforms, and that did weaken the movement," she said. "But in terms of movement building, we still find it easy to organize around this issue because people are so pissed off. I think there is still a lot of energy there."

That energy will be needed in the coming months. While New York's budget mess will occupy legislators for the next few weeks, they will eventually turn to the Rockefeller law reforms. No bills have been filed yet, but they are expected shortly. And hearings are set for May. This year's battle to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws is just getting underway.

The NY Parole Board: How it Works & How to Change it

Join the New York Campaign for Telephone Justice at a special meeting this month! Susan Wright, President of the Coalition for Parole Restoration, whose husband has gone before the parole board 6 times, will answer questions about the current parole process, present her work to change the parole system, and let you know how you can get involved. Not in NYC? Join us via telephone -- call 1(800) 298-6863, the conference I.D. # is 6143333. For more information and to RSVP, contact Lauren at (212) 614-6481.
Date: 
Wed, 09/26/2007 - 6:30pm
Location: 
666 Broadway, Room 602
New York, NY 10012
United States

DPA Press Release: Lawmakers, judges, and advocates rebuke Gov. O’Malley’s veto of sentencing reform bill

For Immediate Release: May 17, 2007 Contact: Naomi Long (202) 669-6071 or Laura Jones: (202) 425-4659 Lawmakers, judges, and advocates rebuke Gov. O’Malley’s veto of sentencing reform bill; O’Malley “clinging to the failed policies of the past” in a “lapse of leadership” Coalition vows to continue educating O’Malley, promoting treatment instead of prisons Annapolis—A coalition of advocates, law enforcement officials, drug treatment providers and policy experts today denounced Governor O’Malley’s veto of a bill that would have provided the possibility of parole for non-violent drug offenders. The sentencing reform bill, HB 992, was one of the only bills vetoed by O’Malley, despite its support from the legislature, the coalition, and the editorial pages of the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun. “The veto is a disappointing mistake,” said Justice Policy Institute executive director Jason Ziedenberg. “Instead of taking a baby step in the right direction towards treatment instead of prison, O’Malley is stubbornly clinging to the failed tough on crime policies of the past. The governor failed to show leadership and vision in this decision.” States across the country have taken steps to reform ineffective mandatory sentencing laws that remove discretion to consider the individual facts of the case. Newly-elected Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (D) recently called for wide ranging mandatory minimum sentencing reform. Newly-elected New York Governor Elliot Spitzer added language in his budget for a prison closure commission, and is considering a bill to further reform the state’s Rockefeller Drug Laws. Under the comparatively modest Maryland reform, individuals convicted of a 10-year sentence for a nonviolent drug reform would have been eligible for, but not guaranteed, parole. Individuals convicted of violent crimes would serve the full 10-year sentences. “Governor O’Malley has put Maryland out of step with other states that are moving in the direction of smarter, more effective sentencing policies,” said Naomi Long, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance District of Columbia Metropolitan Area project. “This veto was a lapse of leadership, and hurts Maryland’s efforts to implement the kinds of real reforms that would actually make a difference.” The state of Maryland spends millions of dollars each year incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders, the vast majority of whom would be better served by drug treatment options. A recent report by the Justice Policy Institute found that Maryland's sentencing laws disproportionately affect communities of color and may be the least effective, most expensive way to promote public safety. “The fight for more effective and fair sentencing policies isn’t over,” said Delegate Curtis Anderson (D-Baltimore), a sponsor of the legislation. “Maryland voters want more fair and effective sentencing policies. We will keep working with the Governor to implement those reforms.” The Partnership for Treatment, Not Incarceration supported HB 992, and is a consortium of organizations and individuals including members of faith communities, public health and drug treatment professionals, public defenders, judges, police and other law enforcement. For more information about bill, or to interview spokespeople who can respond, contact Naomi Long (202)669-6071. To learn more about sentencing reform work in Maryland, visit: www.justicepolicy.org and www.drugpolicy.org . ###
Location: 
Annapolis, MD
United States

Opinion: A better bargain

Location: 
MD
United States
Publication/Source: 
Baltimore Sun
URL: 
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/bal-ed.drugs14may14,0,7788528.story?coll=bal-opinion-headlines

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