Alabamians For Criminal Justice Reform A plan to push bills H.R.3713 and H.R. 759 to the congressional floor

Executive Summary

Housing prisoners is one of Alabama's most debilitating expenditures. Although Alabama is particularly hampered by mass incarceration, the soaring costs of prison have become an issue of national concern. As indicated by the Vera Institute for Justice, "Over the past 40 years, the United States has seen a dramatic increase in the use of prisons to combat crime. As a result, incarceration rates have skyrocketed, with the country’s state prison population having grown by more than 700 percent since the 1970s."

Alabama spends less per prisoner than almost every state, but in order to become compliant with national prison standards, Governor Bentley intends ask state lawmakers to approve approximately 800 million dollars to refurbish existing prison and build new ones. From 2002-2012, Alabama's prison budget more than doubled. Adding nearly 1 billion dollars Alabama's corrections budget means other state departments and agencies, like education, could lose vital funding .

Additionally, Alabama's prison are disproportionately populated by African-Americans. In Alabama, for every 1 incarcerated white prisoner are there nearly 4 black prisoners. The disparities between white and black incarceration rates are not the result of an inherent criminality among African Americans, but rather policies and practices which drive disparity; implicit biases and stereotypes in decision making; and the stigmatization of structural disadvantaged communities of color.

The preponderance of evidence makes salient the negative overlapping moral and economic consequences of allowing America's, and particularly Alabama's, system of mass incarceration to persist. It is our political and moral position that in order to curb the costs of imprisoning inmates and reverse decades of racially problematic criminal justice practices, citizens should press their congressional representatives to enact broad sweeping policy changes.

HR. 3713: The Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 Bill
“The nature of the criminal justice system has changed. It is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.” - Michelle Alexander

Bill Summary

This bill permits a court to reduce the mandatory minimum prison term imposed on certain non-violent defendants convicted of a high-level first-time or low-level repeat drug offense (including unlawful import, export, manufacture, or distribution of, or possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance).

The legislation expands safety valve eligibility to permit a court to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum for certain non-violent, cooperative drug defendants with a limited criminal history. It reduces the enhanced mandatory minimum prison term for certain defendants who commit a high-level repeat drug offense, use a firearm in a crime of violence or drug offense after a prior conviction for such offense, or unlawfully possess a firearm after three or more prior convictions.

It permits retroactive application of such reductions for defendants without a prior serious violent felony conviction, after a court considers certain factors.

It also establishes a consecutive mandatory prison term for a defendant who commits a drug offense involving a detectable amount of heroin or fentanyl.

This Bill Will do the Following:

  • Reduce the mandatory life without parole sentence for a third drug offense under 21 U.S.C. s. 841 to a mandatory minimum term of 25 years in prison (retroactive, except for those with a prior conviction for a “serious violent felony”);
  • Reduce the mandatory minimum 20-year sentence for a second drug offense under 21 U.S.C. s. 841 to a mandatory minimum term of 15 years in prison (retroactive, except for those with a prior conviction for a “serious violent felony”);
  • Narrowly define which prior drug offenses can trigger longer mandatory minimum drug sentences under 21 U.S.C. s. 841 and s. 851;
  • Apply the 15-year and 25-year mandatory minimum drug sentences to a new group of people who previously would not have received them, those who have broadly-defined “serious violent felony” prior convictions;
  • Make the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) of 2010 retroactive, allowing some but not all of the approximately 5,800 crack cocaine offenders sentenced before August 3, 2010, to seek sentences in line with that law’s reforms to the 100-to-one disparity between crack and powder cocaine mandatory minimum sentences;
  • Expand the drug “safety valve” exception at 18 U.S.C. s. 3559(f) (not retroactive) so that nonviolent drug offenders can receive sentences below the mandatory minimum term if:
  • they had 4 or fewer criminal history points, as calculated under the federal sentencing guidelines, and did not have a prior 2-point or 3-point felony conviction, OR the court determines that the person’s criminal history score substantially over-represents the seriousness of the defendant’s criminal record or the likelihood that he will commit more crimes; and
  • they fulfill all other parts of the safety valve (no violence resulted; no use or possession of a gun; person pled guilty; and person was not a leader, organizer, manager, or supervisor of the offense conduct).
  • Create an additional safety valve exception (not retroactive) for drug offenders facing 10-year mandatory minimum sentences so that the person can receive the 5-year mandatory minimum prison term instead if they:
  • do not have a prior conviction for a “serious drug felony” or a “serious violent felony”; and
  • do not have a prior conviction for a “serious drug felony” or a “serious violent felony”; and
  • did not play a leadership role in the offense; and
  • did not possess or use a gun in the offense; and
  • plead guilty; and
  • did not exercise substantial authority or control over the criminal activity of a criminal organization, act as an importer or exporter, high-level distributor or supplier, wholesaler, or manufacturer; and
  • did not sell drugs to or with a person under age 18; and
  • the offense did not result in injury or death; and
  • the offense did not involve gun possession or use.
  • Reduce the 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for people convicted for gun possession offenses under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA, 18 U.S.C. s. 922(g)) to a mandatory minimum term of 10 years (retroactive, except for those with a prior conviction for a “serious violent felony”);
  • Apply the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for ACCA to a new group of people who previously would not have received it, those who have broadly-defined “serious violent felony” prior convictions;
  • Reduce the 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for those who commit second or subsequent offenses of possessing guns in the course of drug trafficking offenses or crimes of violence under 18 U.S.C. s. 924(c) to a mandatory minimum term of 15 years, AND limits application of that 15-year mandatory minimum to convictions that were final prior to the commission of the new 924(c) offense (retroactive, except for those with a prior conviction for a “serious violent felony”);
  • Apply the 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for second or subsequent s. 924 offenses to a new group of people who previously would not have received it, those who have broadly-defined state prior convictions for crimes of violence that included gun possession, brandishing, or discharge as an element of the offense; and
  • Create a new, mandatory consecutive sentence of up to 5 years for heroin offenses that involve the drug fentanyl.

Why This Bill is Important

This bill takes a small, but meaningful step in the right direction toward addressing unfair sentencing practices which punish many low-level, non-violent and first time drug offenders.

What We'd Like to See Added to the Bill:

  1. A broader spectrum of offenders eligible for retroactive sentencing relief>
  2. A more individualized approach to sentencing which allows judges to have more discretion in sentencing.
  3. Address the special needs of the addicted, mentally ill, veterans, and domestic abuse survivors.

Resources: FAMM, US Conference of Mayors

H.R. 759: The Corrections and Recidivism Reduction Act of 2016 Bill
In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute - Thurgood Marshall

Bill Summary, and what this Bill Does:

Directs the Attorney General to: (1) develop a Post-Sentencing Risk and Needs Assessment System; (2) make recommendations regarding recidivism reduction programs and productive activities (programs); (3) conduct ongoing research and data analysis on the best practices relating to the use of offender risk and needs assessment tools, the best available tools, the most effective and efficient uses of such tools, and the most effective programs for prisoners classified at different recidivism risk levels and for addressing the specific needs of prisoners; (4) develop risk and needs assessment tools for such System based on such research and analysis; and (5) review the System, recommendations, and research biennially to determine whether any revisions or updates should be made.

Requires the System to provide: (1) tools to classify the recidivism risk level of prisoners and assign appropriate programs, reassess such risk level periodically and make appropriate reassignments, and determine when a prisoner is ready to transfer into pre-release custody; (2) guidance on the programs that should be assigned for each classification of prisoner; (3) incentives and rewards for prisoners to participate in and complete programs, including family phone and visitation privileges, time credits, and transfers into pre-release custody; and (4) guidelines for the Bureau of Prisons to reduce rewards earned by prisoners who violate prison or program rules. Bars prisoners convicted of specified offenses from receiving time credits.

Directs the Attorney General to: (1) develop training programs for Bureau officials and employees responsible for administering the System; (2) monitor and assess the use of the System; (3) review the effectiveness of existing programs in prisons operated by the Bureau and in state-operated prisons; and (4) make recommendations to the Bureau regarding the expansion of programming and activity capacity, the replication of effective programs, and the addition of any new programs that would help to reduce recidivism.

Directs the Bureau to: (1) implement the System and complete a risk and needs assessment for each prisoner; (2) expand the effective programs it offers and add any new ones necessary to effectively implement the System; (3) phase in such programs according to a specified schedule; and (4) develop policies for the warden of each prison to enter into partnerships with specified nonprofit organizations, institutions of higher education, and private entities to expand such programs.

Sets forth procedures for the transfer into pre-release custody of a prisoner classified as having a low risk of recidivating.

Why this bill is important

This bill takes meaningful steps toward addressing two correlated problems, unemployment among felons and recidivism. Because both limited economic opportunity and educational attainment are predictive of criminality, efforts which provide ex-offenders with job training and education could dramatically decrease recidivism.

Reflections
We need in every bay and community a group of angelic troublemakers. - Bayard Rustin

Reflections:

We believe these two bills set an important national trend in the direction of social justice through criminal justice:

  1. It saves taxes payer money by preempting wasteful spending, a core concern for most conservative.
  2. Acknowledges and begin to redress harmful setencing practices, a moral issue at the heart of progressive/liberal values.
  3. Provides economic opportunities for those our society often discards.
  4. Prevents crime through empowerment, not corrections.
  5. Sets a national trend that state lawmakers will be forced to confront.
Campaign Outline, Immediate Goals and Strategy

Campaign Outline

Organizations like "Black Lives Matter" and "Dream Defenders" have foisted social justice concerns to the fore of civic dialogue. Enacting social justice reform through policy however, has yet to become a priority for lawmakers despite public outcry. Although demonstrations and protests have yielded in the past tangible results, recent iterations have not provoked policy change. A different approach, one adapted from the "Tea Party Movement", may prove to be much more effective toward motivating lawmakers to rewrite problematic criminal justice laws. We hope to initiate a new type of grassroots campaign; one mobilizing citizens to make direct contact with the congressional law maker who directly represents them.

Grassroots campaigns must be targeted and well organized in order to be effective. In order to maximize our efforts and mobilize as many people as possible toward pressuring law makers to enact criminal justice reform we will:

  • Organize a mass letter drive campaign where constituents within the Congressional District 5 challenge Mo Brooks sponsors bills H.R. 3713 and H.R. 759.
  • Host a large, massively publicized launch event to introduce each bill and galvanize community support, and organize.
  • Organize a "Sunday Tour" where campaign representatives challenge churches to participate in the letter drive campaign.
  • Organize event a targeted social media campaign which publishes content which fosters conversation about the need for criminal justice reform, introduces the bill and advertises the effort.
  • Organize press campaigns where civic organizations and community leaders publicly call for criminal justice reform.
  • Collaborate with North Alabama colleges (Oakwood, UAH, AAMU, Athens State, UNA, Calhoun etc) and student organizations to mobile students.
  • Leverage media outlets (radio talk shows, local T.V., print and non-print periodicals) to further push the conversation.

Campaign Goals and Strategy

We have one over ride goal: Convince congressman Mo Brooks to sponsor both H.R. 759 and H.R. 3713. We've also identified several others goals which are tantamount to the overall success of the campaign.

  • Send at least 5,000 stock letters (ideally 10,000) and at least 500 unique (ideally 1,000) to congressman Mo Brooks urging him to sponsor bills H.R. 759 and H.R. 3713 over a span of six months.
  • Develop a 20 person core team, with at least 3 elected officials.
  • Attract a crowd of 1,000 at our launch event.
  • Go on tour at a least 20 churches.
  • Garner a large social media following, and create a campaign video which gets at least 500 shares.
  • Hold at least 3 press events (launch event not included).
  • Find at least 3 student organizations at 3 different universities to partner with.
  • At least 5 unique op-eds publishings, 4 different radio shows and 4 on air television appearances.

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