Broken Federal Compassionate Release Program – A Broken System


Dear Mejustice–

FAMM has long been concerned that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons is not administering the law that permits federal courts to grant early release — commonly referred to as “compassionate release” — for “extraordinary and compelling” reasons such as imminent death or serious incapacitation. We did not appreciate just how bad the problem was until we finished our research for this report.

The 128-page report, “The Answer is No: Too Little Compassionate Release in US Federal Prisons,” is the first comprehensive examination of how compassionate release in the federal system works. It is based on scores of interviews with federal prisoners, family members, advocates, and current and former Bureau of Prisons and Justice Department officials, as well as a review of court and legislative documents.

We will have much more to say about this issue in the weeks and months ahead, but we wanted to let you know about the new report it. Be sure to listen to Mary on NPR . You’ll also be able to access the interview on the NPR Morning Edition website.

My best,Julie

Julie Stewart
FAMM President

A joint report by Human Rights Watch and Families Against Mandatory Minimums

This 128-page report is the first comprehensive examination of how compassionate release in the federal system works. Congress authorized compassionate release because it realized that changed circumstances could make continued imprisonment senseless and inhumane, Human Rights Watch and FAMM said. But if the Bureau of Prisons refuses to bring prisoners’ cases to the courts, judges cannot rule on whether release is warranted. Since 1992, the Bureau of Prisons has averaged annually only two dozen motions to the courts for early release, out of a prison population that now exceeds 218,000. The Bureau of Prisons does not keep records of the number of prisoners who seek compassionate release.

Report – The Answer Is No – Too Little Compassionate Release In US Federal Prisons

How Mandatory Minimums Forced Me to Send More Than 1,000 Nonviolent Drug Offenders to Federal Prison

Judge Mark W. Bennett
Judge Mark W. Bennett has sentenced more than 3,000 defendants in four federal district courts and reviewed sentences…
An excerpt:

If lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug addicts actually worked, one might be able to rationalize them. But there is no evidence that they do. I have seen how they leave hundreds of thousands of young children parentless and thousands of aging, infirm and dying parents childless. They destroy families and mightily fuel the cycle of poverty and addiction. In fact, I have been at this so long, I am now sentencing the grown children of people I long ago sent to prison.

For years I have debriefed jurors after their verdicts. Northwest Iowa is one of the most conservative regions in the country, and these are people who, for the most part, think judges are too soft on crime. Yet, for all the times I’ve asked jurors after a drug conviction what they think a fair sentence would be, never has one given a figure even close to the mandatory minimum. It is always far lower. Like people who dislike Congress but like their Congress member, these jurors think the criminal justice system coddles criminals in the abstract—but when confronted by a real live defendant, even a “drug trafficker,” they never find a mandatory minimum sentence to be a just sentence.

Many people across the political spectrum have spoken out against the insanity of mandatory minimums. These include our past three presidents, as well as Supreme Court Justices William Rehnquist, whom nobody could dismiss as “soft on crime,” and Anthony Kennedy, who told the American Bar Association in 2003, “I can accept neither the necessity nor the wisdom of federal mandatory minimum sentences.” In 2005, four former attorneys general, a former FBI director and dozens of former federal prosecutors, judges and Justice Department officials filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court opposing the use of mandatory minimums in a case involving a marijuana defendant facing a fifty-five-year sentence. In 2008, The Christian Science Monitor reported that 60 percent of Americans opposed mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenders. And in a 2010 survey of federal district court judges, 62 percent said mandatory minimums were too harsh.

Federal judges have a longstanding culture of not speaking out on issues of public concern. I am breaking with this tradition not because I am eager to but because the daily grist of what I do compels me to.

Montana Medical Marijuana Grower Faces 80-Year Prison Sentence

|Nov. 29, 2012 12:40 pm

   On Tuesday I noted a Washington Post editorial that described the Obama administration’s policy regarding medical marijuana as mainly “hands off,” with the Justice Department “focusing scarce resources on major violators.” Similarly, the Associated Press reported a few weeks ago that “the Obama administration has largely turned a blind eye” to medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Here is what that hands-off, blind-eye policy looks like in Montana: Chris Williams, a partner in Montana Cannabis, faces a prison sentence of 80 to 92 years for supplying patients with marijuana—and for insisting on his right to a trial.

Williams’ business was one of several Montana dispensaries raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration last year. He is the only defendant arrested as a result of those raids who has refused to plead guilty. One of his partners, Tom Daubert, received probation; another, Chris Lindsey, reached a similar deal but has not been sentenced yet; and a third, Richard Flor, died while serving a five-year prison sentence.

What explains this astonishing range of penalties, from zero prison time to nearly a century? Mandatory minimums….to continue reading,

Montana Medical Marijuana Grower)

Montana Medical Marijuana Grower Chris Williams Prepares For A Lifetime Behind Bars 


GOP Platform Is Changing It’s Stance On Prison, What Will The Democrats Do?

September 2012

Julie Stewart
FAMM President
August is traditionally a very slow time in Washington D.C., especially in an election year.  Members of Congress return home to meet with constituents, campaign for election, and take vacations with their families.  You’d think FAMM staff could relax in August, reveling in the quiet of the city.  But you’d be wrong.  August is the perfect time to get the attention of congressional staffers who have time on their hands, for a change, since their bosses are home.This August, FAMM’s government affairs counsel, Molly Gill, made a point of visiting the offices of a dozen members of Congress who serve on the House or Senate Judiciary Committees.  Her purpose was to remind them of FAMM’s priorities and ask for their help. Members and their staff are busy with lots of different issues so it’s important to get in front of them as often as possible and remind them why mandatory minimum laws do not work.  Molly was joined in several meetings by FAMM’s VP and general counsel, Mary Price, who also made good use of the quiet month to talk to key players at the Justice Department, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and the U.S. Judicial Conference.

All of these meetings are important for us to gather intelligence about what others are thinking and planning – and to let them know our ideas. While it’s true that most people in Washington are focused on the election, we want to be ready to hit the ground running no matter who wins.
The presidential election went into full swing in August with the Republican National Convention in Tampa.  Of particular interest to me was the fact that the drug war was not mentioned in the Republican platform on crime this year but it was four years ago, as explained in this excellent article.  Also, a number of the prime-time speakers who graced the stage during the three-day summit have led the way for sentencing reform in their states.  Governors John Kasich (OH), Chris Christie (NJ), and Mary Fallin (OK) have all signed sentencing reform bills and made positive statements about why reform is needed.
Former governor Mike Huckabee (AR) has acknowledged that we cannot incarcerate our way out of the drug war, and U.S. Senator Rand Paul (KY) is our Republican champion in the Senate for blocking passage of mandatory minimums.  So, even though the Republican platform on crime still calls for mandatory minimums, it’s clear that not every Republican is in lock-step with the platform.  Check out this short YouTube video of great quotes about sentencing from some of the convention speakers.And in case anyone needs to be reminded that sentencing reform changes lives, listen to what we’re hearing from Massachusetts.  Remember, last month the Governor signed a bill into law that included many of our sentencing reforms.  Scores of prisoners have been released early as a result of the reforms and now we’re feeling their love…  Here’s a sampling:

FAMM is wonderful and I respect the people that are behind it, because if we didn’t have this I wouldn’t have hope to one day get my Dad home.  My family is so excited we cannot believe it. Where would we be without your efforts?  We cannot thank you enough!!!!!!

This will hopefully give my loved one a 2½ year advancement on finding work and going back to college – makes a huge difference for someone that has been away from society for 8 years since the young age of 22.

Thank you again for all of your time, work and effort – you have made a tremendous contribution to the lives and spirits of those serving mandatory minimum sentences.

And that is why there are no lazy summer days at FAMM: The harder we work, the more lives we can improve.  And what can be more satisfying, really?

Happy Labor Day –

JulieJulie Stewart
FAMM President

Posted by Suzy Khimm on August 31, 2012

Four years ago, Republicans devoted a section in their platform to the War on Drugs, lamenting the “human toll of drug addiction and abuse” and vowing to “continue the fight against producers, traffickers, and distributor of illegal substances.”

Michael S. Williamson-The Washington Post

That plank is conspicuously missing from the GOP platform this year. The fight against illegal drugs is only mentioned in passing, mostly with reference to drug cartels and the ban on using controlled substances for doctor-assisted suicide.

Policy experts agree that the omission is significant. “This is less a ‘tough on crime’ document than you would have expected. And leaving out the War on Drugs [is] quite astounding,” says Mark Kleiman, a crime policy expert and professor at UCLA. “It’s a bit more of a libertarian attitude,” says Marc Levin, who runs a conservative criminal justice reform project called “Right on Crime” that’s attracted the support of Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist.

What’s more, the 2012 platform includes new provisions that emphasize the importance of rehabilitation and re-entry programs to help ex-prisoners integrate back into society—using language that Kleiman describes as “a lot less ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key.’”