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Old 11-10-2003, 02:07 AM
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Default Advocates, lawmakers, corrections officials and former prisoners discuss trends, sent

New FAMM report: 25 states embrace 'smart on crime' policies

Report, first-ever conference highlight major shift in political will

Advocates, lawmakers, corrections officials and former prisoners discuss trends, sentencing and corrections policy reform movement, lay plans for future reform

Download Smart On Crime: Positive Trends in State-Level Sentencing and Corrections Policy (pdf format) at http://www.famm.org/.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - As states grapple with their third straight year of fiscal misery and struggle with a cumulative $200 billion in revenue shortfalls, policymakers in 25 states have implemented smarter, less costly sentencing and correctional reforms, according to a new report commissioned by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and authored by Judith A. Greene.

Ms. Greene identified a fast-growing national trend of state-level criminal justice reforms: "From Alabama to Wisconsin, public officials in 25 states have made major improvements in their sentencing and correctional policies. Four more states have similar reform proposals under consideration. Seventeen states, including Michigan, Louisiana, Washington, Texas, Kansas and Mississippi have rolled back mandatory minimum sentences or restructured other harsh penalties enacted in preceding years to 'get tough' on low-level or non-violent offenders, especially those convicted of drug offenses."

Sentencing experts, policy makers, corrections officials, former prisoners and advocates from around the country will discuss the growing sentencing and corrections reform movement, and many of the reforms detailed in the report at the opening plenary session of the first-ever State Strategies for Criminal Justice Reform conference at the Tremont Plaza Hotel in Baltimore, Md., on Monday, Nov. 10, 2003, at 8:40 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.

In 2002, Michigan legislators repealed almost all of the state's mandatory minimum drug statutes - long cited as among the toughest in the nation - replacing them with drug sentencing guidelines that give discretion back to Michigan judges. These sweeping reforms were crafted by an unusual alliance of prosecutors, reform advocates, drug court judges and civil rights groups, and accomplished with broad bipartisan support that crossed traditional political alignments. Michigan will save an estimated $41 million this year alone because of the reforms.

"The growing movement toward 'smart on crime' sentencing and corrections policies is not driven solely by dollars," said Laura Sager, FAMM executive director. "In the last few years, there has been a major shift in public opinion and political will away from criminal justice policies that do not distinguish between offenders and waste precious tax resources on incarcerating too many low-level, nonviolent lawbreakers."

Rep. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake, MI) voted for the reforms. "Make no mistake about it, I have no problem with putting people in jail. I consider myself to the right of Attila the Hun. This just gets back to common-sense approaches to crime rather than just locking them up and throwing away the key. I tell my colleagues throughout the U.S.: Don't be afraid of taking on these issues for fear of being chastised as soft on crime. It never came up, and I was in a heated primary. We have to analyze what we're doing and then proceed from there," said Kowall.

Sixteen states, including Texas, Washington, Colorado and Kentucky have eased prison population pressures by shortening time served in prison, increasing the release rate and sanctioning probation or parole violators without returning them to prison. Texas policymakers introduced parole reforms in 2000 that resulted in a dramatic decrease in their state's prison population -7,698 from September 2000 to December 2001.

Ohio's policymakers used structured sentencing reforms at both the front-end and the back-end of the correctional system to stabilize the prison population and to reduce the numbers of prisoners by 4,000. In January 2002, corrections director Reginald Wilkinson shut down the Orient Correctional Institution, wringing as much as $40 million out of the annual corrections budget. This year he has moved to close a second prison. Since the state budget crisis, Governors in many states-California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia-have closed entire prisons to save correctional costs.

Director Wilkinson, "At a time when states are cutting essential services and struggling to cure the budgetary epidemic, reexamining sentencing, parole and other criminal justice policy is the smart way to save millions of dollars and enact policies that protect public safety without bankrupting our state."

The conference is sponsored by ACLU of Texas, California Prison Moratorium Project, Citizens Alliance on Prisons & Public Spending (CAPPS), Correctional Association of New York, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), Justice Fellowship, Justice Policy Institute, Volunteers of America, Western Prison Project and hosted by the Open Society Institute.

Smart On Crime: Positive Trends in State-Level Sentencing and Corrections Policy was authored by Judith Greene of Justice Strategies and commissioned by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). The report was funded by a grant from the Butler Foundation and Greenville Foundation. Visit http://www.famm.org/ to download a copy of the report. For more information or to arrange interviews with key sentencing advocates and experts, please call Monica Pratt at (202) 822-6700.

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