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This edition of The Razor Wire is available as a full size, full color, fully printable Adobe Acrobat PDF file.

Petitioning Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

By Chuck Armsbury, senior editor

"We were hijacked," wrote Mujaddid R. Muhammad in a Razor Wire editorial for summer 2006 issue, page 13. He was referring to the Blakely/Booker Supreme Court rulings that initially inspired hope in confined people plainly eligible for relief under the ruling. As if to prove how "hope is a poor friend," these individuals are routinely denied retroactive consideration despite mountains of evidence before the Court that thousands of federal sentences over the past 20 years have been justified by guidelines now deemed unconstitutional.

Muhammad argued that an impasse is not acceptable under any law, that a solution is at hand, and that retroactive application of Blakely/Booker rulings for eligible US federal prisoners is appropriate and implied, for example, by the American Convention on Human Rights, which provides in Article 9:

"A heavier penalty shall not be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the criminal offense was committed. If subsequent to the commission of the offense the law provides for the imposition of a lighter punishment, the guilty person shall benefit therefrom." -- (Underlining added - editor)

In fact, the United States Government is signatory to Article 9 under the Convention, adopted at the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Human Rights, San Jose, Costa Rica, November 22, 1969. The Conference (and Convention) is part of the Organization of American States (OAS) and has a Washington DC address:

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 1889 F Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20006.

Muhammad's editorial quoted David E. Johnson who insisted, in part, that (Congress and the President) "should be troubled and poised to act when it is known that the Constitution has not been upheld for hundreds of thousands of prisoners now serving unconstitutional sentences," and should by national and international principle be allowed to "benefit" these "guilty" people.

Thus, the idea is out there that the President and Members of Congress should and could be brought before an independent court of justice to explain why they have refused or failed to act on the legal spirit and requirements of the Blakely/Booker findings. And now that forum for justice just could be the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Information is available online about the Commission at

Here's Article 23 on "Presentation of Petitions":

Any person or group of persons or nongovernmental entity legally recognized in one or more of the Member States of the OAS may submit petitions to the Commission, on their own behalf or on behalf of third persons, concerning alleged violations of a human right recognized in, as the case may be, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights, the Additional Protocol in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Protocol to Abolish the Death Penalty, the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, and/or the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women, in accordance with their respective provisions, the Statute of the Commission, and these Rules of Procedure.

The petitioner may designate an attorney or other person to represent him or her before the Commission, either in the petition itself or in another writing.

With more and more South and Central American nations standing up to White House policies, isn't it a fine time to petition for a show-cause hearing with a demand that President Bush and Members of Congress answer to a Western Hemisphere organization (OAS) -- and its human rights commission -- about why they're ignoring easily understood requirements of the American Convention on Human Rights -- Article 9 precisely?

Let's open up new fronts to challenge a do-nothing polarized Congress and weak President on human rights issues -- even if some disagree with the spirit and intent of Article 9. If you're uncomfortable with doing nothing and with shame for our country as world's leading jailer of seven million in some level of custody, it's time to recognize and benefit tens of thousands of US prisoners eligible today for relief and release under the American Convention on Human Rights.

Petitioners: start your engines.

Backers Of LERA Hopeful For 110th Congress

By Larry Schulenberg, father of a drug war prisoner

"Send me in, Coach." And the story goes that the puny little guy carries the football across the goal line and wins the game. The crowd cheers, and he's carried off the field on the shoulders of teammates.

That's the scenario those of us at Federal Prison Policy Project (FPPP) are praying will take place after the new Congress convenes. In 2003, we begged for the chance to collaborate and play with the big boys, the well-known prison reform groups, and we convinced Rep. Bobby Scott to sponsor the bill that we had penned: The Literacy, Education, and Rehabilitation Act (LERA). We got into the ball game. And it's possible we'll get to carry the ball for a touchdown.

Three years ago, the members of FPPP argued, discussed, debated, and compromised to give birth to LERA. The bill provides for "earned early release." When LERA is enacted, federal prisoners will be encouraged to earn additional "good time" by taking high school or GED classes, or college or vocational courses. Prisoners with those degrees can earn "good time" by teaching classes themselves. Prisoners must maintain exemplary behavior records to receive credit toward "earned early release."

Highlighting anticipated leadership changes in the 110th Congress in January, 2007, Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia will assume the chairmanship of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, thereby increasing likelihood LERA will have a hearing. Scott has been quoted as saying that he wants to reform criminal justice laws and to reduce costly incarceration.

Early in January 2007, FPPP will be calling for your help as we continue the struggle to make LERA into law, thus helping to reunite families and welcome formerly incarcerated people back into the world.

For more online information about Federal Prison Policy Project:

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