The numbers are discouraging: 1 in 28 American children has at least one parent in prison. Even though crime rates have dropped, our prison population has quadrupled; there are now about 2.4 million adults behind bars. It is costing us $80 billion a year to maintain our prison system. At one point, society thought that prison was about reform. We’ve all but dropped any pretense of reform; we’re just warehousing people.
Can we fix this?
One organization is trying. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) would like to see changes in harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws, many of which involve drug cases.
In 1990, Julie Stewart was public affairs director at the Cato Institute when she first learned of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Her brother had been arrested for growing marijuana in Washington State, had pled guilty, and — though this was his first offense — had been sentenced to five years in federal prison without parole. The judge criticized the punishment as too harsh, but the mandatory minimum law left him no choice.
Motivated by her own family’s experience, Julie created Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) in 1991. Though her brother has long since left prison, has a beautiful family and a good job, Julie continues to lead FAMM in the fight for punishments that fit the crime and the offender.