Category Archives: Sentencing

Eric Holder Announces Support of Sentencing Reform

Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder made a speech at  American Bar Association’s annual meeting announcing his support for sentencing reform measures that would mitigate the harsh effects of drug laws and mandatory minimums. 

Here is an introduction to a New York Times article and video about the speech: 

In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration moved on Monday to ease overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on Monday, announced the new policy as one of several steps intended to curb soaring taxpayer spending on prisons and help correct what he regards as unfairness in the justice system, according to his prepared remarks.

Saying that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason,” Mr. Holder justified his policy push in both moral and economic terms.

“Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable,” Mr. Holder’s speech said. “It imposes a significant economic burden — totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone — and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

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August 13, 2013 · 3:15 pm

The House I Live In

I recently watched “The House I Live In” a documentary about the cost of the War on Drugs. “The House I Live In” won the Grand Jury Prize: Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. The documentary is available from multiple outlets, including Netflix.

Here is a description of the documentary:

Why We Fight director Eugene Jarecki shifts his focus from the military industrial complex to the War on Drugs in this documentary exploring the risks that prohibition poses to freedom, and the tragedy of addicts being treated as criminals. In the four decades since the War on Drugs commenced, more than 45 millions of addicts have been arrested — and for each one jailed, another family is destroyed. Meanwhile, the prisons in America are growing overcrowded with non-violent criminals, and illegal drugs are still being sold in schoolyards. By examining just where it all went wrong, Jarecki reveals that a solution is possible if we can just find it in ourselves to be compassionate, and see past the decades of paranoia and propaganda.

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August 10, 2013 · 11:17 am

So Weed It Is: Why Dr. Sanjay Gupta Changed His Mind on Marijuana

This Sunday, August 11 at 8PM, CNN will feature a documentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, titled, “WEED”. In promoting the documentary, Dr. Gupta wrote a commentary explaining why he changed his mind on weed. 

Here is how it begins: 

Over the last year, I have been working on a new documentary called “Weed.” The title “Weed” may sound cavalier, but the content is not. I traveled around the world to interview medical leaders, experts, growers and patients. I spoke candidly to them, asking tough questions. What I found was stunning.

Long before I began this project, I had steadily reviewed the scientific literature on medical marijuana from the United States and thought it was fairly unimpressive. Reading these papers five years ago, it was hard to make a case for medicinal marijuana. I even wrote about this in a TIME magazine article, back in 2009, titled “Why I would Vote No on Pot.”

Well, I am here to apologize. I apologize because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.

Instead, I lumped them with the high-visibility malingerers, just looking to get high. I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have “no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.”

They didn’t have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works. Take the case of Charlotte Figi, who I met in Colorado. She started having seizures soon after birth. By age 3, she was having 300 a week, despite being on seven different medications. Medical marijuana has calmed her brain, limiting her seizures to 2 or 3 per month.

Special thanks to Professor Douglas A. Berman’s insightful blog, Sentencing Law and Policy,” for bringing this story and documentary to my attention. 


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August 8, 2013 · 4:17 pm

Inmate and Corrections Officer: Bridging the Gap

Recently, this American Life recorded an conversation between an inmate and a corrections officer. The conversation covered many issue that are central to prison reform and provides a glimpse into prison dynamics

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July 29, 2013 · 8:40 pm

Orange is the New Black

Recently, Netflix release its original series “Orange is the New Black.” This engaging comedy-drama is about a federal woman’s prison. The show discusses many issues that are central to sentencing and prison reform.

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July 26, 2013 · 8:04 pm

Florida: Expedites Death Penalty Process Despite Chilling Exoneration Rate

Yesterday, This American Life ran a short story about a recent bill signed by Florida Governor Rick Scott.  Despite the fact that Florida has one of the worst record for poor lawyering in death penalty cases (which only requires a majority vote for death in Florida), the bill would make executions quicker and easier. 

Here is a description of the story:

On Wednesday, Florida executed a death row inmate named William Van Poyck. His execution came the same week that Florida’s governor signed a new law designed to speed up executions in the state. Emily Bazelon, legal affairs editor at Slate, explains that of all the states in the country, Florida is probably the last one where you’d want executions to move faster. (8 minutes)

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June 17, 2013 · 10:14 pm

Sesame Street Helps Kids Understand Incarceration

Yesterday morning,  CBS Sunday Morning featured a segment about a new initiative of Sesame Street to help kids cope with the reality of imprisoned parents.  

Here is an introduction to the story: 

At 24, Francis Adjei is now the head of his household, a role he never imagined having to play.

“One day, we’re all together having dinner; following day, she’s in jail. And we don’t know what to do,” he said.

Two years ago his mother, Jackie Pokuwaah, A Ghanaian immigrant, was convicted of grand larceny, and is serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence at a state penitentiary.

Adjei had to drop out of school, and now spends his days managing his siblings’ schedules, trying to keep them in school.

His 7-year-old brother, Tyler, has to catch the school bus by 7:15. His 19-year-old sister, Francisca, who has epilepsy, helps where she can; and Francis spends an hour each way taking his 10-year-old sister, Breanna, on the subway to get her to school.

“My mother, the only person that takes care of all these things, she’s not around. So now, it all falls on me now,” Francis told Doane.

“When the police came and took your mom,” Doane asked Francis, “did anyone ever explain what it meant to be incarcerated?”

“To the children? No,” he replied. “We’ve never went down that direct path, just kind of been beating around the bush.”

“Why was it so difficult to explain, to talk about?”

“I don’t know, it was a very hard position to be in,” he replied. “I didn’t know what to tell them. I didn’t even know how to go about it.”

But soon Adjei and his brothers and sisters will find a little help on a familiar street: Sesame Street.

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June 10, 2013 · 8:56 am