‘Sentencing the Crime, Not the Person’

Families Against Mandatory Minimums celebrates its 25th anniversary this week. Julie Stewart, FAMM’s founder, tells TCR we still have a long way to go in changing America’s approach to punishment.

A Life (Without Parole) Story

How much punishment does an offender deserve? The Crime Report’s David J. Krajicek takes a deep look at America’s ‘lifers’–­the neglected leftovers of mass incarceration.

Report: BOP Rarely Seeks ‘Compassionate’ Release

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) rarely seeks early release for prisoners facing imminent death or serious incapacitation, according to a report released today by the advocacy groups Human Rights Watch and Families Against Mandatory Minimums. In 1984, Congress gave federal courts authority to grant early release — also referred to as “compassionate release” — for “extraordinary and compelling” reasons, but only when a motion to do so has been submitted by the BOP. The BOP has averaged about two dozen such motions each year since 1992, according to the study. The BOP requires prisoners to be within 12 months of death or irrevocably incapacitated in order to be considered for compassionate release; prisoners do not have the right to challenge BOP decisions in court. The report's authors recommend that the BOP bring early release motions to court whenever a prisoner can present “extraordinary and compelling” reasons for release, “regardless of whether bureau officials believe early release is warranted.” Read the study HERE.

Can We Be Tough on Crime Without Being Tough on Taxpayers?

On August 1, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to look at rising federal prison spending and its impact on the overall criminal justice budget. The hearing followed the release of a letter by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer to the U.S. Sentencing Commission arguing that federal corrections spending is forcing reductions in federal assistance to states for police, prosecutors, and prevention programs. Prompting both events, of course, is the government's miserable financial condition, marked by record federal deficits and ballooning national debt that have forced the President and Congress to look throughout the federal budget for places to cut spending. “In an era of governmental austerity, maximizing public safety can only be achieved by finding a proper balance of outlays that allows, on the one hand, for sufficient numbers of police, investigative agents, prosecutors and judicial personnel to investigate, apprehend, prosecute and adjudicate those who commit federal crimes,” Breuer said in the letter. “And on the other hand, a sentencing policy that achieves public safety correctional goals and justice for victims, the community, and the offender.” Calling current increases in the federal corrections budget “unsustainable,” Breuer wrotes that current overcrowding in federal prisons “puts correctional officers and inmates alike at greater risk of harm and makes recidivism reduction far more difficult.”

Is the Federal Pardon Process Racially Biased? It's Time to Get Answers

A recent panel discussion at the National Press Club, sponsored by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) discussed allegations of corruption at the little-known Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Among the panelists was Dafna Linzer, the Pro Publica reporter whose dogged determination resulted in two front-page Washington Post stories on the OPA, including one that concluded that whites are four times as likely as non-whites to receive a presidential pardon, even when the circumstances of their crimes are roughly the same. Seven months have passed since Ms. Linzer's first expose was published. Yet neither the OPA nor the DOJ has responded publicly to its serious allegations of racial bias. When asked at FAMM's briefing if she was surprised by DOJ's public silence, Ms. Linzer observed that if the type of racial discrimination produced by the current pardon process were found at the state or local government level, DOJ would probably get involved and initiate an investigation.