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April 23, 2009

Will "National Call-In Day for Justice" achieve anything?

I have already received two (not quite distinct) e-mails reminding me that today is "national Call-In Day."  Here are parts of these e-mails:

From FAMM:

Help flood Congress with calls!  Call your federal lawmakers today and tell them that it is time to end the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.  Your calls will make an important difference.

The National Call-In Day is part of "Crack the Disparity" National Month of Advocacy, a month-long coordinated push to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine....

Twenty-three years of a failed policy is long enough!  It's time to end this unjust and disproportionate sentencing policy.  Follow this link to get talking points and contact information for your federal senators and representative.

If you experience any problems using FAMM's Action Center to look up the names of your federal lawmakers, please call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard three times at (202) 224-3121 and ask to speak to your representative and two senators.

From The Sentencing Project:

Today, be one of thousands of people across the country to phone your members of Congress to call for an end to the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.  Your calls will make an important difference. 

This National Call-In Day is part of Crack the Disparity National Month of Advocacy, a month-long coordinated push to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

Twenty-three years of a failed policy is long enough!  It's time to end this unjust and disproportionate sentencing policy.

To participate call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard right now at 202.224.3121, and ask to speak to your representatives in the Senate and House.  Urge them to support and co-sponsor H.R. 265, the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act in the House and legislation in the Senate that eliminates the 100 to 1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine. 

 You should place three calls because you have one representative and two senators.  Use this link to help you with your calls to Congress:  Click here for talking points and script.

Regular readers know that I am generally supportive of these sentencing reform efforts, but I cannot help but question whether and how this "call-in" day will achieve anything.  Both of these e-mails assert that "calls will make an important difference," but I genuinely wonder if they will make any difference. 

For at least half of the 23 years of this "failed policy," the US Sentencing Commission and many other important institutions and individuals have been speaking out against crack-powder sentencing disparities.  And yet inertia and a lack of leadership and courage among federal legislators and executive branch officials have kept this policy firmly entrenched in federal statutes.  I sure hope a day of calls might make a difference, but I am not at all optimistic.

April 23, 2009 at 09:40 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Perhaps, Doug, it's because there should be a disparity. And what's the baseline for comparison. Crack seems to me to be about the same as meth. How far off are crack dealing sentences from meth dealing sentences?

Posted by: federalist | Apr 23, 2009 10:03:55 AM

REALLY WE AS FAMILY AND FRIENDS ARE AT POINT WERR WE ARE LOOKING AT THE POSTIVE. AND ANYTHING HELPS MAKE THE CALL DOUG. SUPPORT US.

Posted by: ALL CALLS HELP | Apr 23, 2009 11:17:12 AM

"Perhaps, Doug, it's because there should be a disparity. And what's the baseline for comparison. Crack seems to me to be about the same as meth. How far off are crack dealing sentences from meth dealing sentences?"

Making policy based on how things "seem" to you rather than based on hard evidence is what put us in this mess to begin with.

Posted by: Ryan | Apr 23, 2009 11:38:49 AM

I do support your efforts and energy, ALL CALLS HELP, though I really think a march/protest (not to mention an aggressive class-action lawsuit) might be a lot more effective (though a lot more work) than lots of phone calls.

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 23, 2009 12:02:19 PM

Actually, Doug, I'd suggest thousands of calls to Congress are MORE effective than a march or protest, which tend to do nothing at all to change public policy but only preach to the choir.

One day of phone calls won't fix anything in and of itself, but it could help pass the pending legislation.

As for a class action lawsuit, I'd be all for it but I'm in the 5th Circuit so that's a moot tactic here. Anyway, pushing specific reform legislation and litigating aren't mutually exclusive, and in fact ideally should be pursued in a coordinated approach.

Lawsuits can't solve every problem and given the makeup of the courts, pushing good legislation IMO is just as or arguably more important in the current environment.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 23, 2009 12:50:37 PM

Well, at least Doug isn't making his standard spiel about the horrible racism inherent in the crack-powder distinction . . . .

Here's another wonderful example of the urban discount in action:

http://www.newsday.com/news/local/nassau/ny-liduke1812553769mar18,0,3829897.story

Posted by: federalist | Apr 23, 2009 2:33:59 PM

You often use the term "urban discount," federalist, and I wish you'd explain what you mean. Are you asserting that all persons sentenced in urban areas get lower sentences? If not, exactly what do you mean by this term?

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 23, 2009 4:29:36 PM

Doug: Of course contacting our representatives makes a difference. I've been reading the comments forwarded to me by some of the hundreds of FAMM members who have placed their calls to lawmakers. They are delighted to have something to do about this issue. A number of them have loved ones in prison and little power. Do not underestimate the impact of making a phone call, writing a letter or visiting a member of Congress to share views. It is empowering and the most fundamental act of a person in a democracy who wants to be heard. Happily, it also makes a difference. Those of us who work on the ground in Washington as advocates have heard more than once how important it is to get as few as 10 or 20 letters or calls on a matter. We take that very seriously. Constituent contact does a great deal to raise the visibility of an issue and for members whose vote margins are slender, it can also change minds.

One FAMM member who just reported in said it better than I can:

"This was my first call ever and I was not sure what to say but I said what you have here. I spoke to a girl . . .and she said the senator didn't know how she was gonna vote yet but was very nice, took my zip code down and we talked a little and she said other people have called saying these things . . . and said that yea they want to hear cause we keep them in business and that's how they keep their job!"

And, don't forget that this day is part of a month long series of activities sponsored by the Crack the Disparity coalition to help people be heard by coordinating their voices and their message. On Tuesday, people are travelling to Washington for a national lobby day. So strictly speaking of course this one call in day will not change policy in Washington, but it will achieve several things: by engaging and empowering citizens who care enough to make their views known and keeping them engaged for this long fight and by ensuring that on this day at least every member of Congress has to stop and think about what their constituents think about crack cocaine. So, if you haven't done so already pick up that phone and call your reps. You'll feel great and you'll be making a difference.

Posted by: Mary Price | Apr 23, 2009 6:40:05 PM

It seems rather immature to make unsolicited phonecalls to lawmakers like a bunch of kooks. It would be far better to be an authority on the subject and then be asked.

Or maybe hire a firm to lobby.

Posted by: S.cotus | Apr 24, 2009 3:20:02 AM

Is there any data, Mary, on how many calls were made yesterday? Is there any way to find out this data? I am genuinely interested --- and hopeful --- that a certain number of calls will "make an important difference."

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 24, 2009 11:59:30 AM

"urban discount", my shorthand for the more lenient sentences for crimes committed in urban areas. It happens a lot.

And by the way, since the racial particulars were brought up in some of the Georgia cases, perhaps, just perhaps, the racial particulars of the case described in the newspaper article I link to influenced the amount of time the guy wound up getting. Given what the Duke Three were facing and that the book was being thrown at them, it's strange to see an actual forcible rape treated so lightly by the same jurisdiction . . . .

Posted by: federalist | Apr 24, 2009 2:55:27 PM

Doug, There is no way to know. The national call in day was an effort coordinated and advertised by a number of organizations. FAMM keeps track through Capwiz only of the people who call through our website and we know of some 400 calls that were placed through our website, and we do know that our members heard that the offices were receiving calls. But, we were only one organization of those that participated.

Posted by: Mary Price | Apr 24, 2009 5:27:09 PM

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