For The Cause

  • The United States has 5% of the world’s people but 25% of the world’s prisoner’s. 

  • 500,000 of the 2.3 million people behind bars in the U.S. are incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses.

  • 40% of those incarcerated are people of color.

  • Blacks and Latino’s more likely to be criminalized for drug law violations than whites.

  • One in nine black children has an incarcerated parent-(1 in 28 Latino & 1 in 57 white children).

  • Drug offenders make up nearly 50% of the more than 200,000 current federal prisoners.

  • There are approximately 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the country. According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.”

  • Ninety-seven percent of 125,000 federal inmates have been convicted of non-violent crimes

  • More than half of the 623,000 inmates in municipal or county jails are innocent of the crimes they are accused of- the majority are awaiting trial.

  • Two-thirds of the one million state prisoners have committed non-violent offenses.

  • Sixteen percent of the country’s 2 million prisoners suffer from mental illness.

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing
I knew an older woman who was really going through a tough time in her life. She had nowhere to live, no money, no job, and 2 prior crime convictions. Hungry and desperate, she went into Wal-Mart and stole a Little Debbie cake. When she was caught and convicted of the crime she received a life sentence because it was her 3rd strike.

The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, House Bill 1695, in the House of Representatives has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Pat Leahy (D-VT). The Valve Act will directly have a huge impact on the prison population. I ask that you write to your congressman and support this act. Let me give you some background on Mandatory minimum sentencing.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws set minimum sentences for certain crimes that judges cannot lower, even for extenuating circumstances. The most common of these laws deal with drug offenses and set mandatory minimum sentences for possession of a drug over a certain amount.

How Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Generally Works
As a general rule, a sentencing judge decides your punishment shortly after you plead guilty or are found guilty at trial. Punishments are intended to be proportional to the crime, so state and federal sentencing guidelines suggest a range of sentences appropriate for various types of crimes. Judges need not adhere strictly to these guidelines, but can consider any mitigating or aggravating circumstances related to your specific crime, such as:

•Whether you were the principal offender or just an accessory
•Whether you hurt someone or actively tried to avoid hurting anyone
•Your mental state at the time of the crime
Your final sentence may be within the suggested range but could also be shorter or longer, at the judge's discretion.

How Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws Affect Your Sentence
When your crime is subject to a mandatory minimum sentencing law, the judge has much less discretion in setting your punishment. If you plead guilty or are found guilty at trial, you will get at least the minimum sentence set by law. The judge is not permitted to impose a shorter sentence. Even if there are facts that would normally provide a reason for leniency, the judge must ignore those factors. On the other hand, the judge may often consider aggravating factors and impose a harsher sentence than the minimum.

The most common examples of mandatory minimum sentencing are the federal drug laws for possession of certain amounts of illegal drugs. For example, getting caught with one gram of LSD or 100 grams of heroin means you will spend at least five years in prison.

Three-Strike Laws
Three-strike laws are another form of mandatory minimum sentencing. Under these laws, you will face a specific minimum sentence if you are convicted of a third felony. This could be life in prison without parole if your third felony, and at least one previous felony, were violent crimes. Many states have similar laws, although the penalties may differ.

There Must Be Change
Under pressure from sentencing reform advocates, as well as civil rights activists, Congress modified its strict mandatory minimum drug sentencing regime years ago to create a "safety valve" allowing some — but not all — drug offenders to avoid harsh mandatory minimum sentences. The 2013 Justice Safety Valve Act would expand the safety valve to apply to all federal crimes involving mandatory minimums.
These Laws have a racially discriminatory impact, studies conclude that they waste the taxpayer's money, and they often violate common sense. As a result, nonviolent offenders are sometimes given excessive sentences. The necessity to changing this is to treat drug misuse as a health issue and stop relying on the criminal justice system to deal with the problem.

The strategy, however, calls for the expansion of drug courts, which continue to treat drug users in the criminal justice system, where punishment is often the response to addiction-related behaviors such as positive urine screens or missed appointments.

It is time to stop arresting people for drug use; drug use is not being treated as a health issue. I know of no other health issue in which people are thrown in jail if they don't get better.

Advocates say simply expanding public health interventions is not enough given that this Administration's drug policies remain focused on punitive approaches – including arresting more than 750,000 Americans annually for low-level marijuana possession and refusing to recognize the medical value of marijuana.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use. Sixteen states have decriminalized marijuana, and voters in two states – Washington and Colorado – recently decided to regulate marijuana like alcohol.

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The Innocence Project

I chose to spotlight the innocent project, because this is not an uncommon event. It happens, and as a society, we must be the "bigger person" and correct our wrongs.

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There is a time for everything, and sometimes for whatever reasons, innocent or malicious there are those among us that sit imprisoned unjustly...those that deserve to be home. I dedicate this section to Miss. Faye Brown. I am no lawyer; I have not reviewed the case as such. She has been convicted, she has served her time. But I do know that if ever one would feel that I was called and challenged to help set the captive free, God must have meant her. Enough said. To you my friend, "Meet the Browns".

The Innocence Project is a non-profit legal clinic and a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.
Most clients are poor, forgotten, and have used up all legal avenues for relief. All they have is the hope that biological evidence from their cases still exists and can be subjected to DNA testing. All Innocence Project clients go through an extensive screening process to determine whether or not DNA testing of evidence could prove their claims of innocence. Thousands currently are waiting for evaluation of their cases.

They hope that this raises awareness and concern about the failings of our criminal justice system. The prospect of innocents languishing in prison or, worse, being put to death for crimes that they did not commit, should be intolerable to every American, regardless of race, politics, sex, origin, or creed.

Innocence Project
www.innocenceproject.org/‎

Things Anyone Can Do To Help Exonerate Innocent People and Prevent Wrongful Convictions

1. Get connected to stay informed and take action
Join the Innocence Project's online community to receive regular updates, action alerts, in-depth news and analysis, and other information.

2. Build relationships with elected representatives
Call or meet with your state and federal representatives' well before the legislative session starts and discuss your concerns.

3. Connect with a local Innocence Network organization

4. Reach out to the media
When a local or national media outlet runs a story about an exoneration or the causes of wrongful convictions, call or write to the reporter to say you are pleased to see the coverage and interested in seeing additional stories on these issues. Write letters to the editor in response to articles or editorials so that the media – and policymakers who are in a position to help prevent wrongful convictions — know that the public is concerned about these issues

5. Become more knowledgeable about wrongful convictions – and spread the word
There are scores of books, films, television specials and other resources that can deepen people's understanding of the causes of wrongful convictions, the need for reform, the challenges people face after exoneration and other issues.

6.Work with prisoners and their families in your community
Many exonerees and their families talk about how isolated and ignored prisoners feel. Find a local group that works with prisoners and volunteer to get involved however you're needed.

Conviction: The Incredible True Story of Betty Anne Waters

Learn the story behind Betty Anne Waters' two-decade fight to free her brother Kenny and share your reaction in a letter to Betty Anne.