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While Trump Moves Backward on Drug Sentencing, California Heads for More Reforms

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing (STDW) - Fri, 09/15/2017 - 16:50

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

The Trump Justice Department under prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reviving some of the drug war's worst sentencing practices -- mandatory minimum sentences, charging low-level defendants with the harshest statutes -- but that doesn't mean the states have to follow suit.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]And, as has been the case with climate change, environmental protection, trade, and the protection of undocumented residents, California is charting its own progressive path in the face of the reactionaries in Washington.

The latest evidence comes from Sacramento, where the state Assembly passed a bill to stop sentencing drug offenders to extra time because they have previous drug convictions. The measure, Senate Bill 180, also known as the Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements (RISE) Act, passed the state Senate in June and now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

The bill would end a three-year sentence enhancement for prior drug convictions, including petty drug sales and possession of drugs for sales. Under current law, sale of even the tiniest amounts of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine can earn up to five years in prison, and each previous conviction for sales or possession with intent add three more.

State sheriffs complain that the drug sentencing enhancement is the leading cause of 10-year-plus sentences being served in their county jails, which now shoulder more of the burden of housing drug war prisoners after earlier reforms aimed at reducing prison overcrowding shifted them to local lock-ups. As of 2014, there were more than 1,500 people in California jails sentenced to more than five years and the leading cause of these long sentences was non-violent drug sales offenses.

"People are realizing that it is time to reform the criminal justice system so that there's more emphasis on justice and rehabilitation," Mitchell said after the final vote on SB 180, which is supported by nearly 200 business, community, legal and public-service groups. "By repealing sentencing enhancements for people who have already served their time, California can instead make greater investments in our communities. Let's focus on putting 'justice' in our criminal-justice system."

"This sentencing enhancement has been on the books for 35 years and failed to reduce the availability or sales of drugs within our communities," said Eunisses Hernandez of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supported the bill. "These extreme and punitive polices of the war on drugs break up families and don't make our communities any safer."

The bill is part of a set of bills known as the #EquityAndJustice package aimed at reducing inequities in the system. Authored by state Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach), the package also includes Senate Bill 190, which would end unreasonable fees on the families of incarcerated children and also sits on the governor's desk, as well as Senate Bill 355, which will end the requirement that innocent defendants reimburse the counties for the cost of appointed counsel. Brown has already signed that into law. "Harsh sentencing laws have condemned a generation of men of color, and with SB 180 and other bills in the Equity and Justice package we are on our way to restoring the values of rehabilitation to the criminal justice system," Lara said.

When Washington is in the hands of authoritarian, law-and-order politicians like Trump, Sessions, and the Republican Congress, it's time for the states to step up. California is showing how it's done.

Categories: Mandatory Minimums

US: Sessions: Drug Overdoses Are 'The Top Lethal Issue' In The U.S.

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing (MAP) - Fri, 09/01/2017 - 07:00
Chicago Tribune, 29 Aug 2017 - Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday called drug overdose deaths "the top lethal issue" in the U.S. and urged law enforcement and social workers to "create and foster a culture that's hostile to drug use." Sessions spoke to the annual conference of the National Alliance For Drug Endangered Children. He said preliminary data show nearly 60,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016, the highest ever.
Categories: Mandatory Minimums

Chronicle AM: MA Gov Wants Harsh Sentences for Drug Deaths, More... (8/31/17)

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing (STDW) - Thu, 08/31/2017 - 20:29

Connecticut continues to grapple with opioids, the Massachusetts governor and cops want mandatory minimums and a possible life sentence for dealers whose clients die, and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Fentanyl Overdoses Now Exceed Heroin Overdoses in Connecticut. The state saw 539 opioid overdose deaths in the first half of this year, and for the first time, more people died using fentanyl than heroin. While 257 people died of heroin overdoses, 322 died of fentanyl overdoses. The state medical examiner's office projects overdose deaths this year will reach 1,100, a 20% increase over last year.

Connecticut Governor Signs Opioid Bill. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) on Thursday signed into law a bill aimed at slowing the state's opioid epidemic. The bill increases monitoring of opioid prescriptions and requires health insurers to cover inpatient detoxification. The bill passed the legislature unanimously. This is the third year in a row the state has passed bills aimed at the opioid epidemic.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Governor Wants Harsher Penalties for Drug Deals That Lead to Death. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has sent a letter to the legislature proposing a bill that would increase sentences for dealers who sold drugs to people who overdosed and died -- up to life in prison. "When illegal drug distribution causes a death, laws that were designed to punish the act are inadequate to recognize the seriousness of the resulting harm," Baker wrote, according to MassLive. "This legislation would provide for a penalty of up to life in prison and, like the offense of manslaughter while driving drunk, would also require a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years," he added. The bill has the support of law enforcement.

Santa Fe Mayor to Introduce Resolution to Establish A Municipal Drug Strategy Task Force. Javier Gonzalez, the mayor of New Mexico's fourth largest city, will on Thursday introduce a resolution establishing a Municipal Drug Strategy Task Force charged with recommending innovative public health and safety approaches to problematic drug use in the city. "This isn't a problem we can solve by simply declaring a new, top-down policy. It has to be something we take on together, and the strategy has to come from the community. From harm reduction, to law enforcement, to prevention, to treatment, there is a huge range of expertise already developing in Santa Fe, and to find success we will need every one of those voices at the table," said Mayor Gonzales. He added, "So we're doing what we often can do best -- bringing people together."

Categories: Mandatory Minimums

US MA: Baker Proposes Manslaughter Charge For Drug Dealers

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing (MAP) - Wed, 08/30/2017 - 07:00
Boston Globe, 30 Aug 2017 - Seeking to crack down on the suppliers behind the state's lethal opioid crisis, Governor Charlie Baker on Wednesday filed a broad legislative package that would create a new manslaughter charge for drug dealers whose product causes a death. Under Baker's plan, dealers would face a mandatory minimum of five years for selling any drugs that result in a fatality.
Categories: Mandatory Minimums

CN MB: Defence Promises Appeal In Mandatory Sentencing Case

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing (MAP) - Tue, 08/01/2017 - 07:00
Winnipeg Free Press, 27 Jul 2017 - Judge 'troubled' but forced to lock up single mother of four children PLANS to appeal a mandatory minimum sentence as unconstitutional are on the horizon for a Winnipeg mother who is now behind bars despite the judge's declaration that justice would not be served by locking her up.
Categories: Mandatory Minimums
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