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She points to the first time Congress enacted mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes in 1951 with the Boggs Act - which made no distinction between drug users and traffickers - and later repealed them in 1970 when it was clear they weren't working. Gill sees two potential solutions: repealing the minimums entirely, which would leave the sentencing guidelines in place but allow for judicial discretion, or expanding the existing 'safety valve,' which allows judges to disregard the minimums under certain criteria." California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has dropped plans to ease prison overcrowding through the early release thousands of nonviolent offenders.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, California's prison system holds twice as many inmates as it is designed to hold.
As the Los Angeles Times reported on August 11, 2009 ("Washington State Revisits Three-Strikes Law"), officials in Washington state are working to change the fates of those serving life in prison as a result of mandatory minimum "three strikes" laws; Washington passed its "law requiring criminals with three serious felony convinctions to spend the rest of their lives in prison" in 1993, becoming the first state to do so (though "California followed suit the next year, and 24 other states now have similar laws").
As the article states, "Defense attorneys in Washington say that the clemency process -- the only route to freedom for the state's three strikes inmates -- is cumbersome and expensive," as "the state does not provide public defenders for clemency petitioners." Moreover, "defendants in some Washington counties still face life prison charges for strings of relatively minor crimes," according to Washington Defender Association director Christie Hedman.
Nearly 80 percent said the courts are best qualified to determine sentences for crimes, and nearly 60 percent said they'd be likely to vote for a politician who opposed mandatory minimum sentences." The article states, "The current spate of mandatory minimums has its root in the crime wave of the 1980s, when fears about crack cocaine, in particular, led lawmakers to draft tougher measures to deter dealers.
Much attention in recent years has focused on the disparity between the minimums meted out for crack cocaine - often connected with African-American offenders and once believed to be more dangerous than powder - and the powder form.
David Borden, Executive Director of the Drug Reform Coordination Network (or Stopthe Drug War.org), expressed excitement in a post for the Drug War Chronicle's blog, and Emily Zia of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office characterized the vote as a "historic moment" ("Finally Cracking the Disparity: It's About Time! FAMM President Julie Stewart stated that "While the vote may be one small step for this bill, it is one giant step for sentencing sanity." She added, "If Congress eliminates the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, it would not only restore faith in the justice system among the communities most affected by the law, it would reduce prison overcrowding and free up funding for more effective rehabilitation efforts." Stewart also made it clear that "FAMM strongly urges Congress to make the changes retroactive so that people currently serving unjust sentences for crack cocaine can benefit and taxpayers will see even greater savings" For more about this incredible development and general information on the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, visit the above-mentioned organizations' websites and/or check out Drug War Facts' section on the issue. Maxine Waters and dubbed the "Major Trafficking Prosecution Act of 2009;" and the "Ramos and Compean Justice Act of 2009," also known as H. Scott's bill "would allow courts to sentence below a mandatory minimum where the sentence violates the principals of sentencing defined by statute: punishment, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation." Waters' proposed legislation "would eliminate all mandatory sentences for drug offenses," and Poe's bill seeks to "amend [federal code] to exempt law enforcement officers from mandatory minimum sentences [...] for possessing or using a firearm in connection with a crime of violence," providing that the weapons are "carried [by officers] to perform their job[s] and [...] used in relation to the performance of [that] job." Thus, Waters' bill would implement the most radical and sweeping changes to mandatory minimum sentencing schemes, while Poe's bill lies on the far side of the spectrum and Scott's sits somewhere slightly left of center.
You can also track the bill yourself via Gov Track. 2934, or "the 'Common Sense in Sentencing Act of 2009;" H. The Subcommitte heard convincing testimony from such strange bedfellows as activist group FAMM's President and Founder Julie Stewart and Republican Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Relief.
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In a disappointing move, the Canadian House of Commons passed "the controversial C-15 mandatory minimum sentencing drug offense bill" in early June of 2009, according to the Drug War Chronicle's June 12 feature article ("In Bold Step Backward, Canadian House of Commons Passes Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing Bill").