sentencing reform

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U.S.: President Obama Commutes Sentences of 42 More Individuals For Drugs

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Drug Policy Alliance: President Must Do More Before His Term Ends and Congress Needs to Act Now

President Barack Obama on Friday commuted the sentences of 42 people incarcerated in federal prison for drug offenses. This follows the commutation of 58 people in May 2016 and 61 individuals on March 30, 2016. To date, Obama has granted clemency to 348 individuals.

President Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.

"It’s great to see the President step up the number of commutations he grants, but he should do so many more before his term ends," said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "The greatest relief for people behind bars will happen when Congress passes legislation.

"Right now there is legislation in the House and Senate to reduce mandatory minimums that would a significant impact on the prison population," Collins said. "Senator Mitch McConnell needs to bring the bill up for a vote now."

U.S.: President Obama Grants Clemency To 58 People In Federal Prison For Drugs

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Drug Policy Alliance: The President is Acting; Congress Must Step Up Too

President Barack Obama on Thursday commuted the sentences of 58 people incarcerated in federal prison for drug offenses. This follows the commutation of 61 individuals on March 30, 2016, 95 people in December of 2015, 45 people in July, 22 people in March 2015, and 8 people in December of 2014.

All of those who received commutations on Thursday were serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses, and many were victims of the disparity in sentencing between crack and cocaine.

Five of the individuals whose sentences were commuted on Thursday were imprisoned at least in part due to at least one marijuana charge.

President Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.

"The President is using his constitutional power, but he can only do so much," said Michael Collins, deputy director at Drug Policy Alliance's office of national affairs. "There is legislation in the Senate that would reduce mandatory minimums and have a greater impact on the prison population, and Leader McConnell needs to bring the bill up for a vote."

Kentucky: Press Conference To Push Senator McConnell To Schedule Criminal Justice Bill

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Over 30,000 Signatories Demand a Vote on Criminal Justice Reform

On the afternoon of March 29, Kentucky advocates, including faith leaders and students, will hold a press conference outside the Lexington office of Sen. Mitch McConnell, to demand that he bring an important criminal justice reform bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand the federal "safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and expand reentry programming and early release, among other things.

The bill has broad bipartisan support, with 29 Republican and Democratic Senators currently sponsoring. The bill was passed by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee last October, and is now awaiting a vote on the floor. House Speaker Paul Ryan recently promised to bring criminal justice reform legislation up for a vote, but Mitch McConnell has not made the same commitment.

Advocates will deliver a petition that was organized by Drug Policy Alliance, Change.org, #cut 50, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. The petition was signed by over 30,000 people, and calls for McConnell to schedule a vote on the bill.

Who:
Rev. Dean W. Bucalos, Program Coordinator, Mission Behind Bars and Beyond.
Reverend D. Anthony Everett, Pastor, Wesley United Methodist Church (Lexington, KY), Commissioner At Large, Kentucky Commission on Human Rights

U.S.: President Obama Grants Clemency To 95 People

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Clemencies Come As Congress Looks More Likely Than Ever To Pass Sentencing Reform

Drug Policy Alliance: The President Is Acting; Congress Must Step Up Too

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

President Barack Obama on Friday commuted the sentences of 95 people incarcerated in federal prison for drug offenses. This follows the commutation of 45 people in July, 22 people in March, and 8 people in December of 2014. All of those who received commutations on Friday were serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses.

In taking this step, the President has now issued 170 commutations, the vast majority to non-violent offenders sentenced for drug law violations under draconian sentencing laws. President Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.

Two marijuana lifers were among those whose sentences were commuted by the President on Friday.

U.S.: Historic Sentencing Reform Bill Unanimously Passes House Judiciary Committee

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Bipartisan Bill Reduces Mandatory Minimums, Returns Some Discretion to Judges, Makes Reductions Retroactive

Legislation Now Moves to the House Floor Amid Momentum to End the Drug War and Mass Incarceration

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to advance the Sentencing Reform Act. The bill, introduced by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and sponsored by 30 other Representatives, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand the federal "safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and make many of the sentencing reductions retroactive.

“This vote today is a significant step toward reducing the federal prison population,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “We have a bill moving in the Senate, and now we have a companion bill moving in the House, so I’m optimistic we’ll have legislation on the President’s desk in a matter of months.”

The vote comes a few weeks after Senate Judiciary Committee advanced its sentencing reform bill by a 15-5 vote. The Senate bill includes provisions around reentry and recidivism, which the House is expected to address in a separate bill.

U.S.: Criminal Justice Bill Reducing Mandatory Minimums Clears Senate Judiciary Committee

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Bipartisan Bill Reduces Mandatory Minimums, Increases Early Release and Returns Some Discretion to Judges

Legislation Heads for the Senate Floor Amid Public Demands to End the Drug War and Mass Incarceration

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted 15 to 5 to advance the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The bill, introduced by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and sponsored by 10 other Senators, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand the federal "safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), expand reentry programming and early release, and make many of the sentencing reductions retroactive.

“This vote today is a huge step toward ending the failed policies of the war on drugs,” said Michael Collins, policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “To see Republicans and Democrats join hands to pass this bill gives me great hope we’ll have legislation on the President’s desk very soon.”

The vote comes the day after an esteemed group of 130 law enforcement leaders called on Congress to reduce incarceration. The group will meet with President Obama on Thursday at the White House. The President also began a criminal justice tour on Wednesday, visiting West Virginia and highlighting alternatives to arrest and incarceration.

U.S.: House Leaders Announce Sentencing Reform Deal

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Agreement Comes on Heels of Historic Senate Deal

High Hopes that Congress will soon Pass Criminal Justice Reform

House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) on Thursday announced a deal on sentencing reform with his counterpart Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX). The bill -- The Sentencing Reform Act -- takes a similar approach to the Senate’s Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, announced last week, although this bill contains new problematic provisions.

“This is not the legislation we would have drafted, but we are encouraged that we now have bills in the House and Senate that tackle similar issues and that move the ball down the field for sentencing reform,” said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “We are more optimistic than ever that a bill will land on the President’s desk.”

The Senate deal, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), includes reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and expansion of reentry programming and early release, among other things.

Oregon: Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Law Including Sentencing Reform

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Oregon Rewrites Marijuana Criminal Code to Reduce Most Felonies to Misdemeanors and to Make Prior Convictions Eligible to be Cleared

Law Goes Beyond Other Legalization States to Reduce Harsh Marijuana Sentences and Allow for 78,319 Prior Marijuana Convictions to Potentially be Cleared

Oregon Governor Kate Brown on Wednesday signed H.B. 3400, an omnibus bill to implement Measure 91, the marijuana legalization initiative adopted by voters last November. The bill was approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives this week.

Measure 91 legalized possession, use, and cultivation of marijuana by adults 21 and older and regulated commercial production, manufacturing, and retail sales of marijuana. Legalization for personal use took effect July 1, 2015.

As of that date adults 21 and older can legally possess up to 8 ounces of marijuana at home and up to 1 ounce of marijuana outside the home. They may also grow up to four plants at home, as long as they are out of public view. The regulatory structure for commercial retail sales will not be up and running until next year.

In addition to addressing the implementation of Measure 91, H.B. 3400 contains broad sentencing reform provisions that extend well beyond the elimination of criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana and cultivation of up to four plants. The new law reduces most marijuana felonies to misdemeanors or lesser felonies with significantly reduced sentences.

Louisiana: Gov. Bobby Jindal Signs Marijuana Sentencing Reform Law

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New Law an Important Step Toward Reducing Louisiana’s Notoriously Overcrowded Prisons and Jails

Even With This Reform, Louisiana’s Marijuana Laws Remain Harsher Than Nearly All Other U.S. States; Majority of Louisianans Support Ending All Criminal Penalties for Marijuana Possession

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on Tuesday signed legislation to reform the state’s severely punitive marijuana laws and reduce criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession. The law is expected to save the state up to $17 million and will reduce the chances of Louisianans caught with small amounts of marijuana ending up with lengthy jail or prison sentences or saddled with a criminal conviction.

“Louisiana's overdue for a major overhaul of its drug policies and this is a good first step,” said Yolande Cadore, director of strategic partnerships at Drug Policy Action, the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. “It's a relief to see that smart policymakers are starting to recognize this political reality.”

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world – and Louisiana has the highest rate in the U.S. Louisiana’s incarceration rate has doubled in the last twenty years and is nearly five times higher than Iran's, 13 times higher than China's and 20 times higher than Germany's.

One of the key drivers of Louisiana’s world-leading incarceration rate is the war on drugs – 18,000 Louisiana residents are arrested for drug law violations each year.

Louisiana: Rally In New Orleans To Call For Clemency For Man Serving 13 Years For Marijuana Possession

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Criminal justice stakeholders, New Orleans city Council members, sentencing reform advocates, community activists, concerned citizens, friends and family will gather on Saturday, March 7, to rally support for clemency for Bernard Noble, currently serving 13.3 years for 2.8 grams for marijuana.

Noble, a 48-year old father of seven, was arrested while riding his bike when officers discovered 2.8 grams of marijuana, the equivalent of two to three marijuana cigarettes. Characterizing Noble as “exceptional,” two Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judges departed from the mandatory minimal sentence stating “Mr. Noble’s inevitable incarceration will be a greater punishment for his children than for himself,” and Noble’s “particular circumstance is the rare exceptional situation and does not represent the type of individual contemplated by the legislature when assigning sentences.”

Using simple possession convictions from 1991 and 2003, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office charged Noble under the habitual offender law and sought the mandatory minimum sentence despite the trail judges’ disapproval and disagreement with the length of punishment. Trial judges twice departed from sentencing Noble to the state requested mandatory minimum of 13 years and four months and sentenced him to 5 years.

New Jersey: Voters Have Opportunity To Fix State's Broken Bail System

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Public Question No. 1 Would Usher in Comprehensive Bail Reform To Increase Public Safety and Improve Justice for All

Advocates across the New Jersey have launched a campaign to support Public Question No. 1 on November 4. Public Question No. 1 asks voters to change the New Jersey Constitution to give judges the ability to deny bail to dangerous suspects and will usher in comprehensive bail reform in New Jersey.

The proposed Constitutional Amendment also authorizes the Legislature to pass laws to operationalize the amendment — an important action that the Legislature has already accomplished. At the same time that the Legislature passed the resolution to put the bail reform question to the voters, it also passed, with bi-partisan support, groundbreaking legislation to comprehensively reform New Jersey’s broken bail system.

This legislation only goes into effect if the Constitutional amendment on the ballot wins a majority on November 4.

A report released early last year found that on any given day, nearly 75 percent of the 15,000 individuals in New Jersey jails are awaiting trial rather than serving a sentence. The average length of pretrial incarceration for these individuals is more than ten months.

U.S.: Thousands of Prisoners Apply For Obama's Drug Clemency Program

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

More than 18,000 U.S. prisoners completed electronic surveys last month to apply for reduced sentences under President Barack Obama's new program designed to clear federal prisons of nonviolent offenders.

The federal Department of Justice in April announced a major new initiative that solicits petitions from inmates who have served more than 10 years for a nonviolent crime; most of these crimes are drug-related, reports Lis Goodwin at Yahoo News.

Federal prisoners are always able to petition the President to have their sentences commuted, but the new program is intended to give a break to those who were sentenced under the draconian mandatory minimums of now-defunct drug laws that increased the federal prison population by 800 percent since they were passed in the Reagan Administration.

Before the new program, about 18,000 federal prisoners had applied for commuted sentences over the previous 12 years combined. The clemency program is part of Obama's transformation from granting the fewest pardons of any modern President, in his first term, to potentially commuting the sentences of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders in his second.

Such a potentially large grant of clemency hasn't been seen since President Gerald Ford offered amnesty to Vietnam-era draft dodgers back in 1974.

U.S.: 1,100 Clergy, Religious Leaders Call for Sentencing Reform in Federal Drug Cases

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Leaders Point to Racial Injustices, Overcrowding of Prisons Due to Nonviolent Infractions, Urge Congress to Pass Smarter Sentencing Act

Fueled by the failed "War on Drugs" and extreme, inflexible sentencing, our federal prison population has ballooned out of control -- and unless we do something about it, it's going to keep growing and growing for decades to come.

More than 1,100 faith leaders on Tuesday urged the U.S. Congress to support a bipartisan sentencing reform bill to reduce mandatory-minimum sentences for federal drug offenses. The Smarter Sentencing Act (S 1410/HR 3382) passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in January and is poised for a vote by the Senate.

The legislation would alleviate dangerous prison overcrowding and racial disparity in incarceration.

The letter, sent to all members of Congress on Tuesday, is endorsed by leaders affiliated with more than 40 faith groups. Endorsers include Roman Catholics, Jews, Evangelical Protestants and Mainline Protestants.

Many of the endorsers are clergy who work in organizations focused on criminal-justice reform or human services. Most of the signers are clergy in local congregations in nearly every state.

Included among the group of interfaith endorsers was:

The Rev. Gregory Boyle, SJ, founder and executive director, Homeboy Industries
Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director for NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Dr. Iva Carruthers, general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference

U.S.: Want Prison Reform? Start by Releasing Nonviolent Drug Offenders Serving Life Sentences

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What do a former Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, an Illinois truck mechanic, and a Southern California teacher have in common? They are all serving life sentences in federal prisons for nonviolent marijuana offenses.

Most of the public remains unaware that right here, right now, in these United States, we have prisoners serving life or de facto life sentences for nonviolent cannabis offenses. For some, like 1986 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Randy Lanier and Chicago truck mechanic Craig Cesal, these were first offenses.

Lanier, Cesal, and others like Paul Free, Larry Duke and George Martorano, are part of an aging prison population who have been incarcerated for decades for victimless crimes involving a plant states are legalizing.

A new Change.org petition, penned by Beth Curtis of LifeForPot.com, whose brother John Knock is one of these prisoners, offers an easy way the President cold remedy the situation: Grant Mass Clemency to Nonviolent Drug Offenders Serving Life Sentences. The petition models its suggestion on historical mass clemencies like those granted by Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter to Selective Service Act violators during the Vietnam War. Systemic clemency has been used frequently throughout the history of our country and is Presidential tool and responsibility that is usually used to restore justice when retribution has caused a rift in the social fabric. The war on drugs is our contemporary example of this excess.

U.S.: Obama Plans Clemency For 'Hundreds, Perhaps Thousands' Sentenced for Drug Law Violations

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Follows on Footsteps of White House’s Recent Call For Clemency Candidates

Drug Policy Alliance: Positive Step, But Comprehensive Sentencing Reform Is Needed to Prevent More Mass Injustice

A White House official has told Yahoo News that President Obama is prepared to use his pardon power to grant clemency to “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of people who have been jailed for nonviolent drug crimes.

The report said that the administration is making moves that will help it handle the increase in petitions that Mr. Obama is planning to sign off on before he leaves office. Last Tuesday, White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said Obama has directed the Justice Department to improve its clemency recommendation process and recruit more applications from convicts.

The White House’s new moves would follow in the footsteps of a January announcement that the Obama administration would taking the unprecedented step of encouraging defense lawyers to suggest inmates whom the president might let out of prison early, as part of its effort to curtail severe penalties in low-level drug cases.

U.S.: Atty. Gen. Holder Says It's Unclear Whether Feds Can Force States To Outlaw Marijuana

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Despite Recent Pledge to Work with Congress, Refuses to Initiate Process to Reschedule Marijuana

Team Established to Review Nonviolent, Low-Level Drug Offender Candidates for Clemency

Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday appeared before the House Judiciary Committee for an oversight hearing in which he stated that federal law does not always trump state law, declined to initiate the process to reschedule marijuana and reaffirmed his commitment to granting clemency to low-level nonviolent drug offenders with unduly harsh sentences.

Under questioning by Rep. Jason Smith (R-Missouri), who asked the Attorney General whether federal law trumps state law when the two are in conflict, Holder said that while federal law is supreme in many matters, it is “an interesting question” whether the federal government can force a state to criminalize a particular behavior.

“I am hopeful that as public opinion continues to shift in favor of marijuana reform, the White House will one day have the courage to take a larger role in the push to legalization,” said Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) Executive Director Major Neill Franklin (Ret.). "Until then, states remain the innovators, exercising their constitutionally protected police powers to lead the charge toward sensible change that at least the administration has the good sense to follow."

U.S.: Groundbreaking Bill Reforming Federal Drug Sentences Passes Senate Judiciary Committee

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Smarter Sentencing Act -- Biggest Drug Sentencing Reform in Decades -- Would Reduce Mandatory Minimums, Give Judges More Discretion, and Release Some Nonviolent Drug Offenders from Prison Early

Prosecutors Still Opposing Efforts to Bring Racial Justice and Common Sense to Nation’s Criminal Justice System

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday passed bipartisan sentencing reform legislation that would reduce the federal prison population, decrease racial disparities, save taxpayer money, and reunite nonviolent drug law offenders with their families sooner.

The reforms are supported by a strange bedfellows group of senators, including Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

“The tide has turned against punitive drug policies that destroy lives and tear families apart,“ said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “From liberal stalwarts to Tea Party favorites there’s now consensus that our country incarcerates too many people, for too much time, at too much expense to taxpayers."

The Smarter Sentencing Act is the biggest overhaul in federal drug sentencing in decades. It would:

• Cut federal mandatory minimums for drug law violations, so that nonviolent offenders serve less time behind bars.

U.S.: Bill to Reform Mandatory Minimums Introduced in House, As Companion to Senate Bill

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From White House to Congress, Drug Sentencing Reform Is One of Few Issues Democrats, Republicans Agree On

Reps. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) on Thursday introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would significantly reform mandatory minimum drug sentencing policies. The bill, which was introduced as S.1410 in the Senate by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) in July, would cut the length of some mandatory minimum drug sentences by half and expand access to the existing safety valve for federal drug offenders.

It would also afford retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act, which was signed into law in 2010 to reduce the disparity in crack and powder cocaine sentences.

“Mandatory minimum sentencing is a costly and counterproductive cookie-cutter approach that removes a judge’s ability to apply a fairer sentence,” said Jasmine Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the

U.S.: Wednesday Senate Hearing to Highlight Opposition to Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

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Hearing Builds on Bipartisan Patrick Leahy/ Rand Paul Legislation and Attorney General Holder’s Recent Call for Federal Sentencing Reform

As Opposition to Mass Incarceration Builds, Mandatory Minimums Face Increased Scrutiny From Across Political Spectrum

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will hear testimony from four conservative witnesses who have concerns with the continued use of mandatory minimum sentencing, a costly and counterproductive cookie-cutter approach that binds a judge’s ability to apply a meaningful sentence that will address the offense and provide for public safety.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission and a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, mandatory minimums have significantly contributed to the overcrowding crisis in the Bureau of Prisons and drastic racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The BOP operates at nearly 140 percent of capacity -- one-fourth of the Justice Department’s budget.

Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder said there are too many people in prison and it is time for federal sentencing reform. In his remarks, Attorney General Holder encouraged a partnership between the legislative and executive branches to work to solve the issue.

With less than 5 percent of the world’s population -– but nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population -– the U.S. leads the world in the incarceration of its own citizens.

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