Keeping an Eye on Congress
By Chuck Armsbury
We're noting an increase in phone calls and emails asking when the good time law goes into effect, or "when did the President sign a parole bill". There's much confusion expressed about which petition to sign, or legislation believed passed, but which had only been filed and died without action last year. We seek to relieve confusion by dispelling rumors circulating within prisons. As of early March 2009, of particular interest to drug war imprisoned, there are three bills introduced by Rep Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tx):
HR 265: The Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2009. To target cocaine kingpins and address sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Introduced,1/7/2009 the bill would Amend the Controlled Substances Act and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act to increase the amount of a controlled substance or mixture containing a cocaine base (i.e., crack cocaine) required for the imposition of mandatory minimum prison terms for crack cocaine trafficking to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.
HR 68: No More Tulias: Drug Law Enforcement Evidentiary Standards Improvement Act of 2009 would increase the evidentiary standard required to convict a person for a drug offense, to require screening of law enforcement officers or others acting under color of law participating in drug task forces, and for other purposes.
Introduced 1/6/2009 the bill prohibits a state from receiving for a fiscal year any drug control and system improvement (Byrne) grant funds under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, or any amount from any other law enforcement assistance program of the Department of Justice, unless the state does not fund any antidrug task forces for that fiscal year or the state has in effect laws that ensure that:
(1) a person is not convicted of a drug offense unless the facts that a drug offense was committed and that the person committed that offense are supported by evidence other than the eyewitness testimony of a law enforcement officer (officer) or individuals acting on an officer's behalf; and
(2) an officer does not participate in a antidrug task force unless that officer's honesty and integrity is evaluated and found to be at an appropriately high level. Requires states receiving federal funds under this Act to collect data on the racial distribution of drug charges, the nature of the criminal law specified in the charges, and the jurisdictions in which such charges are made.
HR 61: The Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act of 2009 would amend Title 18, United States Code, to provide an alternate release date for certain nonviolent offenders, and for other purposes. Introduced 1/6/2009 would direct the Bureau of Prisons, pursuant to a good time policy, to release a prisoner who has served one half or more of his or her term of imprisonment if that prisoner:
(1) has attained age 45;
(2) has never been convicted of a crime of violence; and
(3) has not engaged in any violation, involving violent conduct, of institutional disciplinary regulations.
I hope readers study and make use of the article on Obama's intentions on page 18. Use it as a checklist on how well he keeps his word, or tries to, but also as a reminder of your part by making him do it. Never has a US President been so open to progressive answers for criminal justice questions, and so prepare yourselves for a year of communicating with the White House, Congress and your state and local leaders. To track congressional bills online, an interesting and participatory website (used to prepare these notes) is at www.opencongress.org.
Sadly, my daughter Jill Armsbury-Pendarvis died January 20th of this year. Long-term members may remember that Jill volunteered with the Coalition at the Philadelphia Shadows Convention of 2000, leading children orphaned by drug war imprisonment in an inspired chorus of song. A victim of exposure to asbestos, she had been a successful professional singer, not a miner or installer of asbestos products, and will always be my shining star.