By Tony Shaw Would our state rather send our kids to prison than educate them? Governor Doug Ducey’s budget confirms this with his intention to cut education spending while budgeting for thousands more private prison beds at a cost of $52 million to house nonviolent offenders. As a private attorney for 42 years I have…

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By Rhonda Turpin In their heart of hearts, every federal prisoner is a celebrity.  Many fellow inmates have approached me, stating, “Ms. Turpin.  You should write a book about me!  My case was all over the news and I am known everywhere!”  They brag. Instead of stating the obvious fact that I have never heard…

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  Not only has our country earned the reputation for incarcerating more adults than any other country, but our criminal justice system has managed to win the world’s record for developed countries at 60,000 juveniles behind bars. Worldwide, The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that at any given time an astronomical one million individuals under…

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By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Anyone interested in prison reform is aware the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. Even though our country is large, only five percent of the world’s population inhabit the US. Incredibly, the country’s jails and prisons house 25 percent of all the inmates on the planet. An astounding one-quarter of all of the world’s prisoners are spending time behind bars in the U.S. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, every 33 adults in the U.S. are incarcerated in America’s jails or prisons.   

A major contributor to these outrageous statistics, which have doubled since 1990 is the “war on drugs” that has transformed into “the war on indigent people.”

The reasons for incarceration discrimination do not end with economic status. People of color are disproportionately locked-up for minor offenses. A significant factor for this social ill is a lingering policy that has sent countless offenders to prison for years. A small amount of crack cocaine found in the pockets of poor blacks has sent them to prison for decades. However, middle or upper-class whites will endure a mere “slap on the wrist” for cocaine offenses.   

More people are behind bars because of drugs than murder, rape or any other violent offense and it is costing tax-payers more than $50 billion a year to keep this atrocity going.

There is only one entity that is benefitting from this out of control economic disaster. The prison industry.

Business moguls have gotten wind of the mass incarceration problem in the U.S. and are making profits off of a deteriorating situation.

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By Tommy Walker

I. Peugh v. United States, (No. 12-62)(S. Ct. June 10, 2013)

Recently, the United States Supreme Court decided Peugh referenced above. At first blush it may not seem to have been a decision which would have significant impact with many defendants. However, upon closer review, the ramifications of Peugh are a lot more subtle, and therefore, Tommy Walker and his assistants have given us a more in-depth review. Peugh may also be the forerunner of the upcoming Alleyne case.

In Peugh, the United States Supreme Court held that sentencing a defendant under a version of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines that was promulgated after he committed his crime and increased the applicable range of the incarceration violates the Ex Post Facto Clause.

The Supreme Court defined the ex post facto clause as: (1) every law that makes an action done before the passing of the law, and which was innocent when done, criminal; and punishes such action; (2) every law that aggravates a crime, or makes it greater than it was, when committed; (3) every law that changes the punishment, and inflicts a greater punishment, than the law annexed to the crime, when committed; and (4) every law that alters the legal rules of evidence, and receives less, or different, testimony, than the law required at the time of the commission of the offense, in order to convict the offender (slip opinion at page 7). (citing, Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall 386 (1793)).

At issue in Peugh was Calder’s third category of the ex post facto clause laws that “change the punishment, and inflict a greater punishment, than the law annexed to the crime, when committed”. (slip op., at 8). Peugh’s claim was that the ex post facto clause was violated because the 2009 Guidelines call for a greater punishment than annexed to bank fraud in 2000, when his crimes were committed. The Government on the other hand, claimed that because the mere punitive guidelines applied at Peugh’s sentencing were only advisory, there was no ex post facto issue. Id.

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By Jean Trounstine

An interesting article in the NYTimes last week made me think about marriage and incarceration and the inevitable link to how we send people to prison for years due to the so-called “war on drugs.”

Charles Blow, NYTimes columnist, quoted public health expert Ernest Drucker’s well-known 2011 book, A Plague of Prisons with the following stats:

■ “The risk of divorce is high among men going to prison, reaching 50 percent within a few years after incarceration.”

■ “The marriage rate for men incarcerated in prisons and jails is lower than the American average. For blacks and Hispanics, it is lower still.”

■ “Unmarried couples in which the father has been incarcerated are 37 percent less likely to be married one year after the child’s birth than similar couples in which the father has never been incarcerated.”

And guess why so many black and Hispanic men are in prison? You got it, the so-called “drug war.” Or as Blow calls it “the disastrous drug war,” or “a war on marijuana waged primarily against young black men, even though they use the drug at nearly the same rate as whites.” With television and the media, “reefer” has been glamorized to “reefer madness,” and indeed the sentencing of reefer is madness.

Image courtesy jeantrounstine.com

The drug war has brutalized so many with lengthy sentences. How can these sentences not affect marriage and families? Take for example Stephanie Nodd who according to her page on Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)’s website served 21years of a 30-year sentence in a federal prison in Florida for a crack cocaine conspiracy she had been involved in for just one month. FAMM was able to influence the Sentencing Commission to make new guidelines and Stephanie was released.

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By Nicole D. Porter, The Sentencing Project

For more than forty years, the correctional system has been dominated by growth. In 1969, the crime rate was 3,680 per 100,000 population and the incarceration rate was 97 state and federal prisoners per 100,000 population. Today the crime rate is slightly lower at 3,667 per 100,000 population but the incarceration rate is five times higher, at 492 per 100,000. The culture of punishment, in part driven by political expediency with “tough-on-crime” policies marketed as the solution to “fear of crime,” has been aggressively implemented at every stage of the criminal justice process: arresting, charging, sentencing, confining, releasing and supervising.

Today, there is general agreement that this vast expansion of the criminal justice system and the seven million people currently under U.S. correctional control did not occur by accident, but as the result of deliberate policy choices that impose intentionally punitive sentences that have increased both the numbers of people entering the system and how long they remain there.

The destructive effects of mass incarceration are visited disproportionately upon individuals and communities of color. Justice Reinvestment was conceived as part of the solution to this problem. Justice Reinvestment originated as an ambitious strategy to reduce reliance on incarceration and repair the harm to individuals and communities through reinvestment in neighborhoods with high concentrations of residents in the criminal justice system.

The initial purpose of Justice Reinvestment was to make state government accountable to impoverished communities – mostly (though not exclusively) black and Latino – where the burden of punishment and incarceration has been the heaviest. These already disadvantaged neighborhoods were being driven deeper into perpetual economic divestment, social isolation, political disenfranchisement and physical distress by the coercive, downward mobility caused by locally concentrated pockets of incarceration and the forced migration of residents to and from prison. The intent was to reduce corrections populations and budgets, thereby generating savings for the purpose of reinvesting in high incarceration communities to make them safer, stronger, more prosperous and equitable.

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