12.16.09 - Scott introduces LERA Act
On December 16, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) introduced H.R. 4752, the Literacy, Education, and Rehabilitation Act (LERA). LERA would alter how good time credit is awarded and would expand the program to permit prisoners to earn credit for satisfactory participation in designated programs. Read more
12.16.09 - Scott introduces bill to rewrite federal good time
On December 16, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va) introduced H.R. 4327, the Prisoner Incentive Act of 2009. The bill would rewrite the good time statute to make clear that a prisoner serving a sentence of over one year may earn up to 54 days of good time credit per every year of his sentence. Read more
12.16.09 - FAMM submits testimony to the Senate hearing on human rights and the law
The Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law will hold a hearing on Wednesday, December 1 at 10:30 titled, “The Law of the Land: U.S. Implementation of Human Rights Treaties”. The hearing will focus on how the U.S. government is currently upholding human rights treaties to which it is a party, including the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and will also examine what more the U.S. government could do to fulfill its treaty obligations to protect and promote human rights.
To read written testimony submitted by FAMM, click here.
12.10.09 - Senate Judiciary Committee mark-up rescheduled
On December 10, the Senate Judiciary Committee put S. 1789, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2009, on the Committee’s “mark-up” agenda. A mark-up is when a committee discusses, potentially amends and either passes a bill out of committee and sends it to the full Senate for consideration and vote or rejects the bill. Just because S. 1789 is on the agenda does not mean that they bill will receive consideration. There are many bills on the Judiciary Committee’s agenda besides S 1789. Because the Judiciary Committee is set to consider so many other pieces of legislation, it is unlikely that this will be heard before the end of the year. We do not know when or even if the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the bill and if and when it will be considered by the entire Senate.
To watch the executive business meetings of the Senate Judiciary Committee, when the Committee marks-up legislation, follow this link: http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/index.cfm?t=week&p=meetings
12.2.09 - New proposed mandatory minimum in the Senate
On December 2, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa) filed (introduced) Amendment 2787 to the Senate health care bill. The amendment, if adopted and passed as part of the health care reform legislation, would add a new six-month mandatory minimum for health care fraud involving a loss of more than $100,000. The amendment has not yet been scheduled for a vote. FAMM and our allies are fighting very hard to stop this amendment from being considered or enacted into law.
11.18.09 - Attorney General testifies before Senate committee
On November 18, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the U. S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. In his written testimony, Holder discusses crack cocaine sentencing reform, saying:
“There are few areas of the law that cry out for reform more than Federal cocaine sentencing policy. Bipartisanship is in short supply in Washington, but on this issue there is agreement on the need for change. This Administration continues to believe that we can eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine while also ensuring that violent and dangerous crack offenders receive stiff and certain prison sentences, as they must. The stakes are simply too high to let reform in this area wait any longer.” Meanwhile, White House policy advisor, Tino Cuellar, addressing an American Constitution Society luncheon at the National Press Club on December 9, reiterated the Administration’s support for eliminating the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.
10.22.09 - National Criminal Justice Commission bill on Senate Judiciary Committee agenda
The Senate Judiciary Committee has vowed to take up S. 714, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009. The Committee has listed the Commission on its mark-up agenda since October 22, but other legislation has delayed Committee discussion. A full committee mark-up session is where members of the committee discuss the bill, may offer amendments to the bill, and, ultimately, vote to accept or reject these changes and pass the bill to the floor.
Because the Judiciary Committee is set to consider so many other pieces of legislation, it is unlikely that this will be heard before the end of the year. That said, we do not know when and if the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the bill and when it will be considered by the entire Senate.
To watch the executive business meetings of the Senate Judiciary Committee, when the Committee marks-up legislation, follow this link: http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/index.cfm?t=week&p=meetings
10.09 - New mandatory minimum in Department of Defense authorization
The President signed into law October 2009 a new mandatory minimum as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The law sets a 6- month mandatory minimum where an individual knowingly assaults of batters a U.S. servicemember because of the victim’s service in the military, and the assault or battery results in a bodily injury. FAMM fought against the inclusion of the new mandatory minimum in this bill. Ironically, the same Act also included a directive to the U.S. Sentencing Commission to study the effects of mandatory minimum sentences.
10.15.09 - Senate bill to eliminate crack sentencing disparity introduced!
One more piece of the crack cocaine puzzle fell into place on Oct. 15 when 10 senators introduced a bill to make crack cocaine penalties the same as those for powder cocaine. "No institution stands in the way of crack cocaine changes,” said FAMM president Julie Stewart. “Every piece is in place to make this decades-past-due reform a reality.” Read press release on the bill, including text of the legislation, statements from bill sponsors and more.
10.13.09 - Legislative briefings shine light on cocaine disparity
October marks the 23rd anniversary of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 that created harsher penalties for crack cocaine than for powder cocaine. To commemorate the anniversary and raise awareness of the need to end the sentencing disparity, FAMM and members of the Crack the Disparity Coalition hosted two legislative briefings, for Senate and House staff on October 13. Read more
8.3.09 - Attorney General calls for smart on crime approach
In a speech to the American Bar Association, Eric Holder said the Administration is dedicated to a smart on crime approach to criminal justice, starting with "talking openly about which policies have worked and which have not." Holder said the Department of Justice is conducting a comprehensive, evidence-based review of federal sentencing and corrections policy. Specifically, the group is examining the federal sentencing guidelines, the Department’s charging and sentencing advocacy practices, mandatory minimums, crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparities, and racial and ethnic disparities in sentencing. The group is also studying alternatives to incarceration, and strategies that help reduce recidivism when former offenders reenter society. Holder said, "We intend to use the group’s findings as a springboard for recommending new legislation that will reform the structure of federal sentencing." Read more.
7.29.09 - FAMM praises vote to restore sentencing fairness
The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation to eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences on July 29. Says Families Against Mandatory Minimums President Julie Stewart, “Justice won today. Today’s vote represents another step to restoring basic fairness to our sentencing laws and to fulfilling the Constitution’s promise of equal justice under the law." Read press release
7.29.09 - Crack-Powder Equalization Bill Passes Judiciary Committee
In a 16-9 vote, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation to eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences on July 29. H.R. 3245, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009, would eliminate the current 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences. The bill would remove references to “cocaine base” from the U.S. Code, effectively treating all cocaine, including crack, the same for sentencing purposes. Read more
7.28.09 - Comprehensive sentencing reform bill passes subcommittee
H.R. 3327, The Ramos-Compean Justice Act of 2009, was introduced with bipartisan support on July 24, and voted out of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security on July 28. The bill would allow courts to sentence below the statutory minimum sentence if the mandatory minimum is longer than necessary to achieve the purposes of punishment. The subcommittee vote is the first bipartisan vote to allow Judges to sentence below a mandatory minimum. The next stop for the bill is the full House Judiciary Committee. To learn more about the bill, follow this link.
7.22.09 - "Controversy should not breed inaction"
Attorney General Eric Holder told prosecutors that a Department of Justice working group is reviewing sentencing and corrections policy, including mandatory minimums, the elimination of the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine, and other controversial, unwarranted disparities in federal sentencing. Said Holder, "As prosecutors, we need to do what is right, no matter what challenges confront us."
7.22.09 - House subcommittee overcriminalization of conduct, over-federalization of the criminal law
On Wednesday, July 22, Representative Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, convened a hearing on overcriminalization of conduct and over-federalization of the criminal law. In his opening statement, Chairman Scott posed a series of questions, setting the tone for the day’s hearing: Do we need to enact more laws at the federal level on a particular subject? That is, is there a valid purpose that is served by creating the crime on the federal level, particularly if it duplicates crimes at the state level? Or would it be better to just provide resources to the states to enforce their own laws? Read more
7.21.09 - Federal Bureau of Prisons oversight hearing report
The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held a hearing on Tuesday, July 21, to review and analyze the Federal Bureau of Prisons’s (BOP) policies. In his opening, Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), subcommittee chairman, stressed the need to re-evaluate the federal prison system which suffers from budgetary constraints, overcrowding, insufficient personnel, and unsafe facilities. Read more
7.15.09 - Mandatory minimums are un-American
The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held a hearing on Tuesday, July 14 to discuss legislation that would eliminate mandatory minimums and their unintended consequences. Testifying on behalf of FAMM was Julie Stewart, who told Congress that mandatory minimums are “un-American” and must be changed. Read more
7.14.09 - Unusual allies call on Congress for sentencing reform
Julie Stewart, FAMM president and Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Relief, testified before Congress on Tuesday, July 14 at a Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security hearing. Stewart and Norquist told Congress that the best way to provide public safety and appropriate sentences – for less cost – is by reforming mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Read press release
6.18.09 - Common sense sentencing bill in the House
On June 18, Representative Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) introduced H.R. 2934, the “Common Sense in Sentencing Act.” The Act would allow courts to sentence below a mandatory minimum when, after looking at all the relevant facts and circumstances of the case and considering the purposes of punishment, imposing a mandatory minimum sentence would violate the congressional command in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) that the sentence be no greater than necessary to comply with the purposes of punishment.
The Act would retain mandatory minimums in the criminal code and Congress would retain the ability to set mandatory minimums. At the same time, the bill would empowers courts to use their discretion and impose a sentence below a mandatory minimum in cases where the mandatory minimum sentence would be greater than necessary to achieve the goals of punishment.
6.17.09 - AG Holder Says Mending Crack Disparity is a Top Priority
On Wednesday, June 17, 2009, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a wide range of issues, including the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine. Dramatically illustrating the injustice of the disparity, Senator Dick Durbin held up a single sugar packet and a bag full of sugar packets and lamented that selling the equivalent amounts in crack and powder cocaine would result in the same sentence. Read more
6.8.09 - Senate Subcommittee to hold hearing on Webb bill
The U.S. Senate is holding a hearing on Senator Jim Webb’s (D-Va.) bill, S. 714, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act. The bill would create a commission charged with conducting a top-to-bottom review of the nation’s criminal justice system and offering concrete recommendations for reform. The hearing, entitled “Exploring the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009,” will be webcast live at 3 p.m. EST. Read more
5.22.09 - Summary of the USSC of Proposed Amendments
On May 1, 2009, the United States Sentencing Commission released its proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines manual, effective November 1, 2009. The amendments proposed by the Commission would affect sentencing for various crimes, including identity theft, distribution of controlled substances over the internet, drug trafficking, public threats, human trafficking of illegal immigrants, counterfeiting, undue influence of a minor, and child pornography. Nearly all of the proposed amendments include some sort of base offense level enhancement under the sentencing guidelines, resulting in longer sentences for many crimes. Unless disapproved by an Act of Congress, the amendments will become effective on November 1, 2009. To read the proposed guideline amendments, please click here.
5.21.09 - Unfairness in Federal Cocaine Sentencing: Is it Time to Crack the 100 to 1 Disparity?
At a hearing on May 21, Department of Justice (DOJ) Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer repeated the DOJ’s call – first made on April 29 to the Senate Crime and Drugs – for Congress to completely eliminate the cocaine sentencing disparity. Read his testimony before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.
4.29.09 - FAMM hails historic DOJ announcement on crack disparity
Today, the U.S. Department of Justice announced its support for replacing the controversial 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine with an even 1:1 ratio. DOJ’s announcement, delivered on Capitol Hill by Asst. Attorney General Lanny Breuer, marks the first time the Justice Department has publicly endorsed equalization of the penalties between crack and powder cocaine. Read press release and read testimony from FAMM member Cedric Parker and FAMM vice president and general counsel Mary Price.
4.29.09 - Rep. Rangel introduces crack cocaine bill
H.R. 2178, the Crack Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act of 2009, introduced by Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) on April 29, would eliminate the mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine and raise the crack quantity that triggers the five-year and ten-year mandatory minimums to the levels of powder cocaine required to trigger the same sentences.
In a statement Rangel said, "No one condones the suffering inflicted on society by drug abuse and crime. But neither should we accept the needless devastation caused by disproportionately harsh drug laws. At the time these stiff penalties were enacted, they were seen as the well-intentioned cure to a frightening epidemic. But instead of reducing drug addiction and crime, those laws have swelled our prisons, jailed young Black and Hispanic men at disproportionate rates, left a generation of children fatherless, and driven up the costs of a justice system focused more on harsh punishment than rehabilitation."
4.28.09 - National Call-in Day and Lobby Day a success!
On April 27 and 28, over 70 people representing more than 10 organizations gathered in Washington D.C. to lobby their legislators to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. FAMM members from Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, Illinois and Washington, DC joined forces with representatives of the religious community, lawyers, a state “drug czar,” defense attorneys, former prosecutors, and other advocates from nearly 20 states to push for change.
Before visiting their members of Congress, the group was addressed by Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), sponsor of HR 1459, The Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009; Rabbi David Sapperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington Bureau. The group also heard from a number of people who have been personally affected by the law, including FAMM member Cedric Parker; FAMM staff member Karen Garrison; Kemba Smith, President of the Kemba Smith Foundation; and Dorothy Gaines.
The Crack the Disparity Lobby day followed an extremely successful national call-in day. On April 23, FAMM members helped flood Congress with thousands of calls to end the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.
4.22.09 - Tomorrow: National Call-In Day to Congress, 4/23
Help flood Congress with calls tomorrow! Call your federal lawmakers on Thursday, April 23 and tell them that it is time to end the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Your calls will make an important difference.
Twenty-three years of a failed policy is long enough! It's time to end this unjust and disproportionate sentencing policy. Click here to get talking points and contact information for your federal senators and representative.
4.15.09 - National Call-In Day for Sentencing Justice!
On Thursday, April 23, thousands of people across the country will phone their members of Congress to call for an end to the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. They will say that 23 years of a failed policy is long enough. It is time to end the unjust and disproportionate sentencing policy. We hope that you will mark your calendars and join us. Your calls will make an important difference.
The National Call-In Day is part of “Crack the Disparity” National Month of Advocacy, a month-long coordinated push to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. A lobby day is also planned. Read more
3.31.09 - Second Chance Act receives funding
On March 11, 2009, President Obama signed into law an omnibus appropriations bill for the remainder of fiscal year 2009 that provides $25 million for Second Chance Act programs, including $15 million for state and local reentry demonstration projects and $10 million for grants to nonprofit organizations for mentoring and other transitional services. See http://reentrypolicy.org for more information on how the money is being distributed.
3.12.09 - A perfect storm for sentencing reform - new bills in Congress
On March 12, three of our champions in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced bills that would, if they pass, change the face of sentencing!
Rep. Waters wants to eliminate mandatory minimums. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) introduced HR 1466, the "Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act of 2009.'' The bill would get rid of all mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses; discourage federal prosecutions of low-level drug offenders, and allow courts to place drug offenders on probation or suspend their sentence. Introducing her bill to Congress, Waters cited FAMM's "Correcting Course" report as evidence that Congress has shown the will to repeal drug mandatory minimums before and should do so again. Click here to read Rep. Waters's statement.
Rep. Scott seeks to end mandatory minimum sentencing for crack and powder cocaine. Congressman Robert "Bobby" C. Scott (D-Va.), introduced H.R. 1459, the "Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009." The bill would eliminate the distinction between powder cocaine and crack cocaine; eliminate all mandatory minimum sentences for cocaine, and establish the possibility of probationary sentences for cocaine offenders.
Rep. Davis demands more good time. Congressman Danny Davis (D-Ill.) introduced H.R. 1475, the "Federal Prison Work Incentive Act of 2009," legislation that would substantially revive the good time system that existed before November 1, 1987, when the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) was passed. The bill would increase good time and provide additional opportunities to reduce a sentence by engaging in work opportunities.
You can learn more about these bills by clicking here.
3.5.09 - March is National Criminal Justice Month
On March 4, the House passed a resolution by unanimous consent establishing March as "National Criminal Justice Month". The resolution urges policy makers, criminal justice officials, educators, victim service providers, nonprofits, community leaders, and others to promote awareness of how to prevent and respond to crime through National Criminal Justice Month. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) encourages policy makers and opinion leaders to use this opportunity to rethink incarceration practices. Mandatory minimum sentencing is contributing to the rapid growth of our prison population, devastating our communities and placing undue burden on American taxpayers without a corresponding increase in public safety. We need to change how we respond to crime and we can think of no better time than National Criminal Justice Month to do so. For more information on the resolution, click here.
3.3.09 - Crime Summit seeks new approach to criminal justice policies
On the same day that newspapers were reporting a new Pew study that found one in 31 American adults is caught up in the correctional system, Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott, chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, hosted a Crime Summit in Washington, D.C. with the goal of developing a more enlightened approach to crime. The half-day forum on March 3 addressed three broad issues: prevention and intervention, sentencing and alternatives, and reentry and collateral consequences. Read more
3.1.09 - Omnibus spending bill includes funding for Second Chance Act
The House passed a $410 billion Fiscal Year 2009 (FY2009) omnibus bill on February 25. The spending bill includes:
$25 million for the Second Chance Act, including $15 million for state and local demonstration grants and $10 million for nonprofit grants
$108,493,000 for Department of Labor ex-offender activities
$10 million for the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (distributed to states and counties)
$40 million for drug courts (distributed to states)
$400 million for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP)
$10 million for the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) (distributed to states)
The Senate must now vote on the bill. The fiscal year runs through September 30 of this year. Once Congress has appropriates funds for FY 2009, it will turn its attention to FY 2010, which runs from October 1 of this year through September 30, 2010. President Obama sent an initial budget request to Congress that included $109 million for prisoner reentry programs, including $75 million to fund the Second Chance Act. In February, FAMM joined over 75 national organizations and more than 60 local organizations in a letter urging Congressional support for the President’s funding request for the Second Chance Act.
2.2.09 - Eric Holder becomes U.S. Attorney General
In a 75-21 vote on February 2, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to confirm Eric Holder, Jr. as U.S. attorney general.
In his nomination hearing, Holder responded to questions about disparity in sentencing saying, "We have to be tough. We have to be smart. And we have to be fair. Our criminal justice system has to be fair. It has to be viewed as being as fair."
FAMM urges the new Attorney General to use the power of his office to reform unjust sentencing practices and support the elimination of mandatory minimums as a way to restore balance and integrity to our justice system.
1.29.09 - Attorney General nominations hearings move forward
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Eric H. Holder, Jr. to be attorney general on a 17-2 vote on January 28. Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) voted no. The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the nomination February 2. The Attorney General is the head of the Department of Justice and chief law enforcement officer of the Federal Government. In this position, he advises to the President and to the heads of the executive departments of the Government, a role that has significant policy repercussions.
1.16.09 - Senate Judiciary Committee to vote on Holder nomination January 28
The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote January 28 on the nomination of Eric Holder for the position of Attorney General. If the Senate committee approves Holder's nomination, the full Senate must decide whether to confirm him.
During the Senate's nomination hearing, Sen. Cardin asked Holder about disparities in the way prosecution is centered and in our laws. He made explicit reference to the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Cardin asked Holder for his commitment to work with Congress and develop a fairer system of justice. Holder agreed, saying, “We have to be tough. We have to be smart. And we have to be fair. Our criminal justice system has to be fair. It has to be viewed as being as fair.”
1.16.09 - Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee introduces bill on crack cocaine
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) introduced on January 7 the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007 (H.R. 265). The proposed legislation would eliminate the 100-1 drug quantity ratio sentencing structure between crack and powder cocaine. The bill would eliminate sentencing differences between crack and powder cocaine in favor of a single mandatory minimum at the current powder cocaine levels and eliminate the five-year mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine. The bill would also authorize drug treatment and enforcement funds and increase fines for kingpins. H.R. 265 directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review the sentencing guidelines and if appropriate, amend them to account for culpability and role in the offense. The bill was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, and in addition to the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
1.5.09 - 111th Congress convenes, President-elect Obama sworn in
Congress will convene for the first time in the New Year on Tuesday, January 6 when the 111th Congress is scheduled to be sworn in. On January 20, President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden will be sworn in to office. House and Senate leaders have made preliminary decisions about Committee leadership, although Committee assignments will not be finalized until after Congress convenes on January 6th.
1.5.09 - Confirmation proceedings on nomination of Eric Holder set for Jan. 15
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin confirmation proceedings January 15 on the nomination of Eric H. Holder Jr., to be Attorney General of the United States. If confirmed, Eric Holder would become the first African American Attorney General. Confirmation hearings will be held in the Senate Caucus Room (325 Russell Senate Office Building and webcast live online. Follow this link to watch the confirmation hearing live: http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=3610
FAMM’s statement on Holder's nomination
FAMM’s experience with Eric Holder has been limited primarily to executive clemencies granted during the Clinton administration and that experience was generally a good one. Holder was Deputy Attorney General when nearly two dozen nonviolent drug offenders serving harsh and excessive sentences were granted much-deserved commutations at the end of President Clinton’s term. Although Holder is most well-known for his opinion regarding the Marc Rich pardon, he presumably reviewed and recommended in favor of commuting the sentences of the drug offenders, too, who have gone on to lead productive and law-abiding lives. Hopefully, his experience as Deputy Attorney General will motivate him to take an active role as Attorney General in ensuring that clemency requests are processed in an efficient manner and that real and meaningful review is given to all cases, which is currently not happening.
Holder’s past statements about mandatory minimum sentences give pause. As the U.S. Attorney in Washington, DC in 1996 he advocated for mandatory sentences of 18 months to six years for selling drugs – including marijuana. (Thankfully, the D.C. City Council did not adopt his proposal.) However, a few years later in a 1999 press conference, he called into question mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug crimes, but said that “mandatory minimum sentences that deal with people who commit violent crimes are almost always good things.”
FAMM gives Holder the benefit of the doubt and hopes that in the ensuing ten years he has developed a more comprehensive view of sentencing policy that gives the courts the reasoned discretion they need to sentence individuals according to their culpability. FAMM anticipates that confirmation hearings will flesh out his current position on sentencing policy.
11.01.08 - Criminal justice guide released by coalition
The Consitution Project, FAMM and other organizations released a guide on criminal justice issues for the incoming Obama Administration and the new Congress. To read the summary and download the guide, click here.
10.01.08 - BOP issues new regulation on halfway houses
The Second Chance Act, signed into law by President Bush on April 9, 2008, increased the maximum amount of time a federal prisoner can be considered for placement in a halfway house from 6 months to 12 months. On October 21, the BOP issued an an interim rule that provides few clues on how they will implement the new halfway house rules in the Second Chance Act. Read more
10.08.08 - Time is running out to register to vote!
The next several days will see voting registration deadlines pass in states around the country. If you are not yet registered to vote, or want to find out if you can register to vote, the following links may be helpful:
Go to http://www.eac.gov/voter/Register%20to%20Vote to check if your state’s voter registration deadline has passed, get the web link and phone number for your state’s election office (http://www.eac.gov/voter/how-to-contact-your-state-election-office), register online, or learn how to become a poll worker on election day.
Visit the Sentencing Project’s website about felony disenfranchisement to learn more about voting restrictions for those with convictions: http://www.sentencingproject.org/IssueAreaHome.aspx?IssueID=4
If you’re not sure you are allowed to vote on November 4, contact your state’s election office and ask. No matter which way you vote, FAMM encourages all of its members to exercise the right to vote if you have it!
9.27.08 - Congress passes bill to restore judicial majority on the U.S. Sentencing Commission
On September 27, Congress passed S.3659, the “Judicial Administration and Technical Amendments Act of 2008,” which restored a minimum judicial presence on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The bill was sent to the President for his signature on October 2.
When it was first created in 1984, the Commission was made up of seven voting members, of which at least three were required to be federal judges (28 U.S.C. § 991(a)). In 2003, Congress amended the statute through the PROTECT Act, requiring that “not more than three” commissioners could be members of the judiciary. This meant that the Commission, the agency that monitors and amends the guidelines that federal judges consult at sentencing, could potentially include no judges at all.
FAMM commends passage of S.3659. Judges bring to the Commission an enormous wealth of experience and knowledge necessary to determine appropriate sentencing guidelines.
9.26.08 - Rep. Davis introduces federal “good time” bill
On September 25, Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) introduced HR 7089, the “Federal Prison Work Incentive Act of 2008,” a bill (this is not yet a law, it does not affect anyone yet) that would substantially revive the good time system that existed before November 1, 1987, when the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) was passed. The SRA reduced the good time credit, eliminated parole and enacted the federal sentencing guidelines. Read more
8.4.08 - Bills introduced to increase public confidence in the justice system
On July 10, Senators Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-Del.), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), introduced the S. 3245, the Justice Integrity Act, legislation designed to increase public confidence in the justice system and identify any unwarranted racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal process. The Justice Integrity Act would establish advisory groups in 10 federal districts, under the supervision of the United States Attorney General, to study and determine the extent of racial and ethnic disparity in the various stages of the criminal justice system; report on the results of their findings; and make specific recommendations to eliminate unjustified racial and ethnic disparities. Representative Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) introduced a House counterpart (H.R.6518) to the Senate bill on July 16.
7.25.08 - USSC publishes 2009 priorities
The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) posted its 2009 priorities, including continuation of work in support of crack cocaine sentencing reform; consideration of alternatives to incarceration; and, potentially, a study of statutory mandatory minimum penalties. To see the USSC’s stated priorities, please click here. FAMM submit comment to the USSC on the proposed priorities. Click here to read out priorities letter. The USSC is soliciting public comment on proposed priorities through September 8.
6.26.08 - “Candy” drug bill passes Senate Judiciary Committee
On June 26, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed and sent to the full Senate for consideration S. 1211, the Saving Kids from Dangerous Drugs Act of 2007. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), is designed to discourage manufacturing, creating, distributing or possessing with the intent to distribute controlled substances that are altered in a way intended to make the substance more appealing to young people under the age of 21 (i.e., appearing like candy).
The bill would apply and increase penalties that exist under current law where actual distribution to a minor is proven. The bill would also levy a one-year mandatory minimum, excluding offenses involving five grams or less of marijuana. The measure must pass the Senate before being considered by the House.
6.23.08 - Joint Economic Committee explores drug policy impact and alternatives
Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) chaired a Joint Economic Committee hearing titled, “Illegal Drugs: Economic Impact, Societal Costs, Policy Responses” on June 19 in Washington. It is the second hearing convened by Webb to review the recent history of U.S. drug policy, the effectiveness of the policy and possible policy alternatives.
In his opening statement, Webb argued that current drug policy has failed to curb illegal drug use while also devastating our minority communities. Webb pointed out that the U.S. has, “five percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's known prison population.” He went on to say that, “Either we have the most evil people in the world, or we are doing something wrong with the way that we handle our criminal justice system. And I choose to believe the latter.”
Also attending the hearing were Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va). The committee heard testimony from four experts: Anne Swern, First Assistant District Attorney, Kings County, Brooklyn, NY; Norma Fernandes, Community Coordinator, Kings County District Attorney ; Peter Reuter, Dept. of Criminology, University of Maryland; and John Walsh, Senior Associate, Washington Office on Latin America.
To read testimony presented at the hearing, please visit the Joint Economic Committee website.
6.13.08 - Joint Economic Committee to examine drug policy
Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) will convene a hearing of the Joint Economic Committee (JEC) to examine the economic consequences of the United States’ drug policy. The hearing entitled, “U.S. Drug Policy: At What Cost?” will be held Thursday, June 19. The panel will discuss the illegal drug economy in the United States, assess the costs of U.S. policy responses to combatting drug use and address the need for policy reforms. The hearing is also likely to address, to some extent, mandatory minimums and sentencing issues. This is the second such hearing hosted by Senator Webb. The first was held on October 2, 2007 and addressed the increasing cost of prison. For more information, please see the Joint Economic Committee web site: www.jec.senate.gov.
6.3.08 - New bill targeting sex offenses committed against children includes mandatory minimums
On June 3, Representative Ric Keller (R-Fla.) introduced a bill, the Prevention and Deterrence of Crimes Against Children Act of 2008 (H.R. 6167), designed to increase mandatory minimums prison terms for offenses related to child pornography, child sex trafficking and prostitution, and child sex offenses, such as rape. The bill was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
4.14.08 - Clinton's crime plan includes mandatory minimum reform
Senator Hillary Clinton outlined her anti-crime agenda in an April 11 speech. In a campaign press release, the Senator vowed to "reform mandatory minimums for non-violent offenders, starting by eliminating the mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine and eliminating the disparity between crack and powder cocaine." These reforms are part of Clinton's plan, which also includes reducing the number of repeat offenders, reducing the size of the population in prisons and juvenile lock-ups, and protecting communities. FAMM has contacted the campaign to request a copy of the speech and will make the speech available in the upcoming week.
Read the Clinton campaign's press release: http://www.hillaryclinton.com/news/release/view/?id=7033
4.9.08 - President Bush signs the Second Chance Act
In a White House ceremony today, President Bush signed the Second Chance Act, legislation designed to aid former prisoners coping with the challenges of reentry. Want to learn more about the Second Chance Act? Click here to read FAMM's frequently asked questions (FAQs).
Click here to read the official transcript of the bill signing ceremony, posted on the White House website.
4.3.08 - Second Chance Act to be signed on April 9
The Second Chance Act will be signed by President Bush at a ceremony in the White House on Wednesday, April 9. The announcement can be found in the fine print at the bottom of this Forbes article.
4.1.08 - Update on the Second Chance Act
The President has not yet received a copy of the Second Chance Act as of April 1. Once the president receives a copy of the bill, he has ten days to either sign the bill into law or veto the bill. If he neither signs nor vetoes the bill in that ten day period, the bill becomes law. FAMM will post additional information on our website as it becomes available.
4.1.08 - Sessions introduces immigration bill with new mandatory minimums
On March 5, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) introduced S. 2709, the Border Crossing Deterrence Act of 2008. Senators Coburn (R-Okla.), Dole (R-N.C.), Inhofe (R-Okla.), DeMint (R-S.C.), Domenici (R-N.M.) and Vitter (R-La.) have added their support as cosponsors of the bill. The bill includes 11 new mandatory minimums, including a five year mandatory for destruction of border barriers or infrastructure. S. 2709 still has a long way to go before it becomes law. FAMM anticipates that Senator Sessions will consider introducing this bill as an amendment to other legislation in upcoming months. FAMM will reach out to Senator Sessions and to members of the Senate who oppose Senator Session’s bill.
To read FAMM”s analysis of the bill, follow this link: S. 2709 analysis (Word document)
3.20.08 - Questions about the Second Chance Act?
Download FAMM's answers to frequently asked questions about the Second Chance Act. The file is in Adobe pdf format. Click here
3.13.08 - Second Chance Act passes Congress!
On Wednesday, March 11, the U.S. Senate passed The Second Chance Act, legislation designed to aid former prisoners coping with the challenges of reentry. The Second Chance Act authorizes federal funding to states, local governments and nonprofit prisoner reentry organizations to help former prisoners obtain job training, literacy training, substance abuse treatment, counseling, housing and mentoring services. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and other advocacy, civil rights and religious organizations supported the passage of the Second Chance Act, which now awaits the signature of President Bush before it can become law. Read more
2.26.08 - House holds hearing on cocaine sentencing disparity
On February 26, The House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held a hearing titled "Cracked Justice -- Addressing the Unfairness in Cocaine Sentencing." The Subcommittee heard from the original cosponsors of legislation currently pending before the House, including H.R. 79, H.R. 460, H.R. 4545 and H.R. 5035, and expert witnesses, including the Honorable Reggie Walton, the Honorable Ricardo Hinojosa, U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert, President-Elect of the National District Attorneys Association Joseph I. Cassilly, FAMM member Michael Short, and Federal Public Defender Michael Nachmanoff. FAMM president Julie Stewart submitted written testimony to the Subcommittee.
The four bills introduced in the House have not yet been scheduled for a vote.
2.25&26.08 - FAMM members call and visit Congress
Thousands of people across the country called Congress in support of eliminating the federal crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity on Monday, Feb. 25. The following day, FAMM members joined together with advocates from across the nation and from various criminal justice, civil rights and religious groups to make personal visits to lawmakers on Capitol Hill to tell them that reform is needed before a House Subcommittee on Crime hearing on cocaine sentencing reform.
2.24.08 - FAMM analyzes House cocaine bills
In preparation for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security hearing on Feb. 26, FAMM has written a comparative analysis of three of the bills pending in the House to reform federal cocaine sentencing policy. Click here to visit FAMM's bills in Congress, where you can download the bill comparisons and more detailed information on the Scott, Rangel and Jackson Lee bills.
2.12.08 - Senate hearing on cocaine laws today
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs is holding a hearing today on federal cocaine sentencing laws titled, “Reforming the 100-to-1 Crack/Powder Disparity.” It is open to the public and will be held at 2:00 pm in Room 226 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building. FAMM was invited to submit written testimony to the committee. Please check back for an update after the hearing.
2.11.08 - FAMM analyzes Senate cocaine bills
In preparation for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs hearing on Feb. 12, FAMM has written a comparative analysis of the three bills pending in the Senate to reform federal cocaine sentencing policy. Click here to visit FAMM's bills in Congress, where you can download the bill comparisons and more detailed information on the Biden and Hatch bills.
2.7.08 - Attorney General Mukasey objects to USSC decision
On February 7, Attorney General Michael Mukasey testified before the House Judiciary Committee in his first House oversight hearing as Attorney General. House and Senate committees are required to conduct oversight over programs and agencies within their jurisdiction. In his testimony, Mukasey called on Congress to overturn a decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that would allow certain prisoners the chance to seek modest reductions of their sentences for crack cocaine offenses. He claimed that "Many of these offenders are among the most serious and violent offenders in the federal system," Mukasey said Thursday. Their release, he said, would produce "tragic but predictable results."
Congressman Scott expressed concern over the Attorney General’s statements, noting that the Sentencing Commission identified significant lower levels of violence and recidivism than those implied in the Attorney General’s statement. Congresswoman Waters pointed out that the Sentencing Commission’s decision does not amount to a “get out of jail free card.”
Courts have the final say on sentence reductions. To read FAMM’s response to Mukasey’s statements, please follow this link: FAMM press release. To read a recent response in the Washington Post, please follow this link: Washington Post.
1.30.08 - Senate hearing scheduled on federal cocaine laws
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs scheduled a hearing for February 12 on federal cocaine sentencing laws titled “Reforming the 100-to-1 Crack/Powder Disparity". For over 21 years, the inequity between crack and powder cocaine sentences has been the subject of great debate. Now the Senate will take a first step toward addressing this inequity. Three bills have been introduced in the Senate and will likely be the subject of debate at the hearing. The hearing is open to the public. It will be held Tuesday, February 12 at 2:00 pm in Room 226 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building.
1.28.08 - The Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2008 introduced
Eliminates mandatory minimums for cocaine offenses
On January 17, Rep. Robert “Bobby” C. Scott (D-Va.) together with 18 cosponsors, introduced H.R. 5035, The Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2008. The bill would eliminate the distinction between powder cocaine and cocaine base (crack); eliminate all mandatory cocaine sentences; establishes pretrial diversion and post conviction drug courts at the Federal level for people charged with illegal use of controlled substances; and increases federal funding for state drug court programs. The bill would establish the possibility of probationary sentences for cocaine offenders.
The bill is the first bill introduced in the House in the 110th Congress that would eliminate mandatory minimums for crack and powder cocaine sentences.
12.21.07 - Message to members on reform
Since announcing historic reform victories that affect federal crack cocaine sentencing policy, FAMM has received congratulations and questions from members across the country on our focus. Rest assured, FAMM’s ultimate goal is to reform all mandatory minimum sentences, on the federal and state level, regardless of what drug is involved. Read more
12.20.07 - Congressman Scott (D-VA) hosts policy briefing on the impact of recent Supreme Court cases Kimbrough v. United States and Gall v. United States
Representative Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) held a well attended briefing for staff and advocates to explain the impact of recent Supreme Court decisions in Kimbrough v. United States and Gall v. United States, that established the authority of federal judges to impose a sentence below that called for by the sentencing guidelines. Joining Rep. Scott were Charles Doyle, senior specialist with the American Law Division, Congressional Research Service; Julie Stewart, president and founder, Families Against Mandatory Minimums; and Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project.
Panelists discussed the Supreme Court’s rulings and their impact on sentencing policy. While commending the Court for giving judges the ability to impose punishment that more closely meets the crime, Julie Stewart emphasized that many defendants will still be sentenced under unjust mandatory minimum statutes, which were not affected by rulings. “The answer lies in Congress,” she said.
12.19.07 - Jackson Lee introduces drug sentencing reform legislation targeting crack cocaine disparity
On December 13, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) introduced H.R. 4545, the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act, with 20 cosponsors. The bill would eliminate sentencing differences between crack and powder cocaine in favor of a single mandatory minimum at the current powder cocaine levels and eliminate the five-year mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine. The bill would also authorize drug treatment and enforcement funds and increase fines for kingpins. H.R. 4545 directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review the sentencing guidelines and if appropriate, amend them to account for an individual’s culpability and role in the offense.
In a statement, Rep. Jackson Lee called for an end to unjust inequality under the law, saying, “We must get a grip on the inequity of the justice system that allows some who can sit in their living room and smoke cocaine to get off easier than those who are on the streets with crack. We want to get rid of all uses of drugs, but we have to be fair in the justice system.”
On December 19, several of the bill’s cosponsors joined Rep. Jackson Lee and leaders of the sentencing reform movement, including FAMM president and founder Julie Stewart, to urge an end to the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine and the elimination of mandatory minimums for simple possession of crack. Reps. James Clyburn (D-S.C.); Stephen Cohen (D-Tenn.); Gwen Moore (D-Wis.); Donald Payne (D-N.J.); Bobby Rush (D-Ill.); Christopher Shays (R-Conn.); and Albert Wynn (D-Md.) spoke in support of the legislation.
FAMM staff member Karen Garrison, whose twin sons are serving crack cocaine sentences, and Kemba Smith, who was sentenced to 24.5 years after becoming romantically involved with a major crack dealer, also spoke. The Garrison twins had just graduated from Howard University when they were convicted and sent to prison for 15.5 and 19.5 years. Smith was 23 years old and pregnant when she was sentenced. In 2000, President Bill Clinton commuted Smith’s sentence and she was released.
After hearing their stories, Shays said, “It strikes me that a country that would do that to its children is a country that lacks a moral compass.”
The bill had 32 cosponsors as of December 19.
12.17.07 - Second Chance Act amended
On December 17, the House of Representatives, reacting to strong opposition in the Senate, passed a resolution amending the Second Chance Act that would expand the definition of an eligible elderly offender and remove the requirement that the he or she either suffers a profoundly debilitating medical condition or has a terminal illness with a life expectancy of one year or less.
The bill must now be voted on in the Senate and be signed by the President before becoming law. Senate leadership hoped to bring the bill to the floor before the Senate adjourned in December, but the bill stalled after Senator Jeff Session (R-Ala.) placed a hold on the bill. FAMM is hopeful that the Senator’s concerns will be resolved and the bill will receive a vote in 2008.
To read a copy of House Concurrent Resolution 270 amending H.R.1593, please follow this link: H. Con. Res. 270
12.11.07 - U.S. Sentencing Commission makes crack cocaine guideline reductions retroactive
The U.S. Sentencing Commission unanimously agreed on December 11 to allow prisoners serving crack cocaine sentences to seek sentence reductions that went into effect on November 1. Retroactivity will affect an estimated 19,500 federal prisoners, almost 2,520 of whom could be eligible for early release in the first year. The effective date of retroactivity is March 3, 2008, giving the courts and probation officers time to prepare to process cases. Federal courts will administer the application of the retroactive guideline, which is not automatic. Courts may refuse to grant sentence reductions to individuals if they believe they could pose a public safety risk.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission has repeatedly advised Congress since 1995 that there is no rational, scientific basis for the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine sentences. The Commission has also identified the resulting disparity as the "single most important" factor in longer sentences for blacks compared to other racial groups.
However, neither the new guideline nor its retroactivity changes the statutory mandatory minimums that retain the 100-to-1 quantity disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Follow this link to view Families Against Mandatory Minimum’s press release: FAMM press release
To find answers to frequently asked questions about the guideline change, follow this link: FAQ
11.14.07 - Second Chance Act passes House
On November 14, 2007 the House of Representatives passed a bill by a vote of 347 to 62 that has the potential to offer individuals in federal prison a second chance. H.R. 1593, the Second Chance Act, is bipartisan legislation introduced by Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), along with Reps. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas), that would provide assistance and resources to people returning to the community after serving a prison sentence.
The House-passed bill authorizes $342 million for transitional assistance to aid former prisoners coping with the challenges of reentry. The bill also included a limited pilot program for the early release of nonviolent, elderly prisoners, but the version that passed so severely limits the elderly release provision, few if any would benefit from the program.
The Senate must now pass S. 1060, the Senate companion bill to the House version of the Second Chance Act. Introduced by Sen. Joseph Biden, Jr. (D-Del.), S. 1060 has 34 bipartisan cosponsors. It was marked up by the Senate Judiciary Committee in early August and reported to the full Senate just before the August recess. FAMM is hopeful that the Senate will address changes made to the elderly release provision and restore the intended purpose of the pilot program.
10.4.07 - Senate hearing explores economic cost of prisons
The Senate Joint Economic Committee explored the cost of prisons and their effects on society at an October hearing, “Mass Incarceration in the United States: At What Cost?” Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) chaired the hearing, which was well attended by committee members including Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kans.), Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.), Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), who is not a member of the committee but is a leader on sentencing reform issues, also attended.
In his opening statement, Rep. Webb pledged to work “on a solution that is both responsive to our needs for law and order, and fairer to those ensnared by this system.” The committee heard from experts who discussed the reasons behind the growth in the prison population; the economic costs of maintaining the prison system; the labor market and social costs of mass incarceration; and policy solutions that would reduce prison growth rates while maintaining public safety.
9.22.07 - Gang bill passes the Senate, stalls in the House
On September 22, the Senate unanimously approved S. 456, the Gang Abatement and Prevention Act of 2007, a sweeping bill that authorizes $1 billion in funding for gang prevention, intervention and suppression programs and creates tough new federal penalties to deter and punish members of illegal street gangs.
Sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), S. 456 does not include any mandatory minimums, but FAMM is concerned by the excessive reliance on federal prosecution and incarceration of youth. The bill must pass the House and be signed by the President before becoming law.