Drug Policy News
March 7, 2014 (The Nation)
Rand Paul and Eric Holder Might Actually Get Something Important Done in Washington by Working Together
Attorney General Eric Holder and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) don’t share a lot in common, but they agree on at least one thing: reducing mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders.
The unlikely allies recently broke bread over the issue in Holder’s office. From The New York Times’s Matt Apuzzo:
Their partnership unites the nation’s first African-American attorney general, who sees his legacy in a renewed focus on civil rights, and some of Congress’s most prominent libertarians, who have accused the Obama administration of trampling on personal freedom with drones, wiretaps, tracking devices and too much government.
Paul is one of several Republicans to support the Obama-backed Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013. The bill, currently moving through the Senate, would reduce mandatory minimums for certain drug crimes and give federal judges more leeway when sentencing offenders.
March 4, 2014 (Philadelphia City Paper)
Artist reflects on nearly 40 years of painting women serving life sentences
Walk around Northern Liberties long enough and you’ll encounter a weathered tile mural embedded in the side of Kaplan’s Bakery, at 3rd and Poplar. The woman that stares back with aching eyes is not a local hero or someone who died tragically. She’s an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs serving life without parole.
The carefully painted text accompanying the portrait tells her story:
“Cyd Charisse Berger has been in prison in Pennsylvania since 1980. She is sentenced to life without parole although she did not commit a murder. Previously, she tried to escape from him, but he stalked and beat her until she returned. Just before he killed the victim, he practiced on Cyd Berger. She helped her abuser flee and reported him to the police. Cyd Berger is asking the governor to pardon her sentence and needs support. Her abuser was the murderer.”
In West Philadelphia, at 44th and Locust, a mural of Rose Dinkins, another woman serving life without parole, offers a more concise statement: “I believe that my life is worth saving because of the person I am today."
These two tile murals are the work of Mary DeWitt, a local artist who has been visiting seven women serving life without parole in Pennsylvania since the late ‘80s, all while painting their portraits and recording their thoughts.
“I see what people don’t have access to, and I have to bring visibility to it or I’m a real asshole,” says DeWitt.
February 28, 2014 (Michigan Live)
An incarcerated mother laments her children
Tinesha Crawford-Wilson is s serving the 14th year of a 17- to 22 1/2-year sentence for killing a fellow drug dealer in November 1999.
“I never wanted this to happen. I won’t lie. I blame myself,” said Crawford-Wilson, whose time in prison has given her insights she wishes she had while free. She expresses regret, especially when it comes to her son Wilson, who is serving 16 to 30 years in prison, and two younger, teenage children.
“He didn’t have anything. He didn’t have anyone. And it breaks my heart that’s where he’s at. And the cycle repeats itself.”
More than 1.7 million children, about 2 percent of the population, have a parent in a state or federal correctional facility.
Of the growing number of women in U.S. prisons, 62 percent of them have children younger than 18, according to a report from The Sentencing Project, which publishes research and advocates for policy reform in the criminal justice system.
February 21, 2014 (WDAZ TV)
Drug zones stiffen penalties for offenders
State laws that stiffen penalties for making or selling drugs near children vary across the nation.
Some states include universities in those “drug-free zones.” Others include public parks, public housing, school buses and YMCAs. The size of those zones range from 300 feet to half a mile.
In North Dakota, manufacturing a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school, child care center, preschool facility or higher education institution is an aggravating factor that can elevate the charges someone faces. It’s that law that four women are accused of breaking when they were arrested Tuesday, after allegedly making methamphetamine near Schroeder Middle School.
Kathy Joan Kielty, Audrey Marie Morris, Ashley Marie Brown, and Tina Mae Metcalf are all charged with manufacturing meth within 1,000 feet of a school, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
“The premise behind drug-free zone laws was that drug trafficking near schools posed a danger to children,” states a policy brief from The Sentencing Project. “In order to protect children from drug activity, lawmakers established protected zones around the places where children were most likely to be present, including schools and public parks.”
February 4, 2014 (Christian Science Monitor)
Declining prison populations may benefit incarcerated mothers the most
Until her release from prison last year for drug-related offenses, Cecilia Mancinas was just like two-thirds of the 200,000-plus women incarcerated in the United States: behind bars for a nonviolent offense.
Mancinas will have been out of prison for a year in February. This time, she is determined to stay out -- and remain part of a trend: three straight years of declining US prison populations after a decades-long rise.
It's a trend that has special meaning for women with children – a demographic that has dealt with distinct challenges related to incarceration and now appears to be benefiting from less emphasis on harsh sentences for nonviolent offenses.
"The decline in women's incarceration appears to be related to fewer drug offenders in prison,” says Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice research and advocacy group. “As harsh sentencing policies have begun to be scaled back, and diversion programs expanded, fewer women are now being sentenced to lengthy prison terms for lower-level drug offenses."
Beginning in the early 1970s, the “war on drugs” led to a surge in the US prison population of both men and women. But as a percentage, women saw a greater increase. Between 1980 and 2010, the number of women in federal and state prison rose by 646 percent, from 15,118 to 112,797, according to a report from The Sentencing Project. Counting women in local jails brought the US total of female prisoners in 2010 to more than 205,000. The rise in male incarceration between 1980 and 2010 rose by 419 percent.