The Sentencing Project News
June 2, 2014
California's Fair Sentencing Act to Equalize Penalties Advances
The Sentencing Project submitted a letter to California's Assembly Public Safety Committee in support of Senate Bill 1010. The proposed legislation has been approved by the state's Senate and would equalize penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses. Sentences for intent-to-sell crack convictions range from three to five years in current state law, compared to two to four years for powder. Crack convictions in low-income communities and communities of color are more common because crack is cheaper than powder. SB 1010 would eliminate the difference in sentencing, probation and asset forfeiture rules for low level powder and crack cocaine offenses.
June 2, 2014 (The Boston Globe)
Convicted as teen, inmate shouldn’t have had to wait decades to be heard
A letter to the editor from The Sentencing Project's State Advocacy Associate, Joshua Rovner:
IN THE May 26 editorial “After 2 decades, teen offender deserves a chance for parole,” the Globe highlighted the case of Joseph Donovan, still imprisoned for his role in a 1992 crime. Donovan was just 17 when he senselessly punched Yngve Raustein; a 15-year old accomplice then stabbed and killed Raustein, who had fallen to the ground.
Under a pair of misguided laws, Massachusetts had no choice but to sentence Donovan to a mandatory term of life without parole. Though 17, he was sentenced as if he were an adult. Though he did not kill Raustein, he was convicted of felony murder.
May 29, 2014 (The Hill)
Last Stand for the Drug Warriors
In January, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Smarter Sentencing Act, a bipartisan bill that would take several incremental steps toward reforming mandatory minimum penalties for non-violent drug offenses. Authored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), and in the House by Reps. Raul Labrador (R-Utah) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the bill is aimed at ensuring that federal criminal justice resources are not wasted with excessive sentences for individuals convicted of non-violent drug offenses.
In conjunction with that effort, Jeremy Haile, federal advocacy counsel for The Sentencing Project, writes in The Hill that the contention that “the legislation would benefit some of the most serious and dangerous offenders in the federal system” is “highly misleading.” He argues instead that “federal drug laws have led to skyrocketing prison populations without making communities safer.”
May 28, 2014 (MSNBC)
Is the ‘tough on crime’ movement on its way out?
"It was a dinner invitation from Newt Gingrich a few years ago that first led me to think change might be coming on criminal justice policy. The former Republican House Speaker had arranged the event with a small group of people concerned with America’s world record prison population. Along with Gingrich, Grover Norquist and other leading lights of the Republican right, we had an intriguing conversation about the runaway 'war on drugs,' excessive federal prosecutions, and the failures of our prison system.
As someone who has labored on these issues for several decades I had gotten used to fighting losing battles: trying to convince policymakers that the 'one size fits all' approach of mandatory sentencing produces vast injustices; that the drug war focus on law enforcement too often ignores the need to help people access treatment; and that the dramatically high rates of incarceration for African Americans are a tragedy for our society.
But over the past decade the landscape has shifted. Four years ago, Congress passed legislation reducing the racially disparate sentencing differential between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a significant expansion of the clemency process in order to reduce excessive prison terms for low-level drug offenders. And in two far-reaching decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court has found aspects of life without parole sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional."
Author: Marc Mauer
May 19, 2014
The Sentencing Project Releases its 2013 Annual Report
The Sentencing Project is pleased to announce the release of its 2013 Annual report which provides a comprehensive overview of activities over the past year.
May 14, 2014
Race and Justice News
Policy: Department of Justice Initiative to Curb Racial Bias in Criminal Justice System
Juvenile Justice: Youth of Color Represented 99% of Automatic Transfers in Cook County, Illinois
Juvenile Justice Resources
Arrests: Black Minnesotans Over Six Times as Likely as Whites to be Arrested for Marijuana Possession
Calls for Policy Reforms: Landmark Studies Underscore Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice System and Call for Reforms
May 8, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
Kentucky: Reform Bill Dies as Lawmakers Fail to Reach a Compromise
Minnesota: Support for Disenfranchisement Reform One-Sided
Iowa: Supreme Court Questions Policy
Virginia: Governor Streamlines Restoration Process
New Jersey: Bill Proposed to Permit Voting in Prison for Veterans
National: Rand Paul: Felony Disenfranchisement Reform, Not Voter ID Laws
May 1, 2014 (Washington Post)
There’s still no evidence that executions deter crime
Despite botched executions like the one Tuesday night in Oklahoma, a majority of Americans support the death penalty. Most people in favor of capital punishment believe that it is the only just penalty for some crimes, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2011. Other subjects of the survey cited other reasons, such as religious teaching.
By contrast, the question of whether executions discourage criminals from violent acts is not up to the conscience to decide. Despite extensive research on the question, criminologists have been unable to assemble a strong case that capital punishment deters crime.
"We certainly can’t say there is a deterrent. We can’t say there is not either," said Marc Mauer, the executive director of The Sentencing Project, adding that the lack of evidence was itself worth considering. "I think at the very least the fact that there’s certainly no reason to believe there’s a significant deterrent effect should give pause."
April 24, 2014 (TIME)
A Misdemeanor Conviction Is Not a Big Deal, Right? Think Again
Only about 10% of all federal convictions in 2010 were misdemeanors, but research shows the majority of people who find themselves in state criminal courts are facing charges for minor crimes like possession of marijuana or driving with a suspended license. Misdemeanor convictions, in fact, don’t always result in jail time. And yet, misdemeanor convictions can trigger the same legal hindrances, known as collateral consequences, as felonies. And there are fewer routes to expunging them from criminal records.
April 23, 2014 (RT)
Death of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: Association between race, poverty, and social exclusion in the US
The recent death, at 76, of former US middleweight boxing contender, Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, reminded the world of the courageous and tenacious struggle this black man waged to overturn his wrongful conviction and imprisonment for murder in 1966.
More significantly it reminded us that the racism responsible for Carter’s wrongful conviction continues to underpin the US criminal justice system to this day.