Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Do I Have 4 Cents?

Do you want to give your two cents to President-Elect Barack Obama? I've already posted a few opportunities to pool your two cents with like-minded organizations. Here are a couple more: Amnesty International and Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
Amnesty International has an app that helps you write a letter to President-elect Obama (requires registration) asking him to demonstrate his commitment to justice by:

  • Announcing the timeline to close Guantánamo
  • Issuing an executive order to ban torture and other ill-treatment as defined under international law
  • Ensuring that an independent inquiry into the USA’s detention and interrogation practices in its “war on terror” is set up

Fascinating that both NOW and Amnesty International emphasize the individual letter writing format rather than the petition format. I wonder if these time-tested NGOs have found letters demonstrably more effective than petitions.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums has a partially editable letter to President-elect Obama stating:
Congratulations on your victory. As you now prepare to take office, I am sure you are assembling a policy agenda for the beginning of your term. I urge you to include federal sentencing reform as a high priority for your administration.

As a concerned citizen and member of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), I believe that the one-size-fits all nature of mandatory minimum sentences undermines a basic principle of American justice - that the punishment should fit the crime and the individual. As you develop your criminal justice agenda, please keep in mind these key facts about mandatory minimum sentences:

- Mandatory minimum sentences prevent the courts from considering the facts of each case or the individual's role. For example, only the weight and type of drug, or the presence of a firearm during a felony offense, determine the length of a mandatory minimum sentence. Judges cannot lower a mandatory minimum sentence because of the circumstances of the case or a person's role, motivation, or likelihood of repeating the crime.

- Mandatory minimum laws often punish low-level defendants more harshly than those who are more culpable. Those with higher levels of involvement in an offense that carries a mandatory minimum often have information to give prosecutors in exchange for a sentence reduction. However, people at the periphery of these cases - for instance, drug couriers, addicts or relatives of drug dealers - often have no information to give to prosecutors and end up with a longer sentence.

- Public support for mandatory minimum sentences has waned. According to a recent poll commissioned by FAMM, 59 percent of Americans oppose mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. And fully 78 percent of Americans agree that courts - not Congress - should determine an individual's prison sentence.

- Mandatory minimum sentences are the least effective means of reducing drug use and sales. At a time of financial crisis, our sentencing policies should be cost effective, not just costly. Treatment of substance abusers is eight to nine times more cost effective than long mandatory sentences, according to the RAND Corporation.

I believe the time has come for a new approach on federal sentencing issues, one that upholds the traditions of individualized justice that Americans hold dear. I sincerely hope that you will give mandatory minimum sentencing reform the attention it deserves.

Thank you for your attention to this issue. I wish you the best of luck during your transition and beyond.

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