Julie Stewart, Founder and Board Chair


“I have met so many people whose lives have been shattered by these laws. I will keep on fighting these injustices until I can honestly say that America’s sentencing laws reflect the basic tenets of American justice: Let the punishment fit the crime — and the offender’s role in the crime.”

Julie Stewart is the founder and board chair of FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization fighting for smart sentencing laws that maintain public safety.

In 1990, Julie was public affairs director at the Cato Institute when her brother was arrested for growing marijuana in Washington State. He pled guilty, and — though this was his first offense — was sentenced by a judge to five years in federal prison without parole. The judge criticized the punishment as too harsh, but said he had no choice because his hands were tied by the mandatory minimum sentencing laws Congress had passed.

“My brother has long since left prison and now has a wife, two beautiful children, and a good job,” says Julie. “But I am still motivated by the unfairness of a system in which politicians mandate sentences for defendants they have never laid eyes on. I am also motivated by the letters and emails we receive daily from prisoners serving unbelievably long sentences for their nonviolent crimes. We have to keep fighting for just punishments.”

C-SPAN | Washington Journal:
Federal Prison Population


Julie founded FAMM in 1991. “At our first organizing meeting, I met the mothers, wives and children of prisoners serving ungodly long sentences,” she said. “As I listened, I knew their stories needed to be told and that Members of Congress needed to hear them.”

Since then, FAMM has grown to over 75,000 supporters, including 30,000 email subscribers, 33,000 federal prison Corrlinks subscribers, over 40,000 Facebook fans and 5,400 Twitter followers.

By putting a human face on mandatory sentencing laws, Julie Stewart and FAMM have played a major role in promoting sentencing reforms. FAMM’s work has directly contributed to fairer sentences for an estimated 280,000 defendants and/or prisoners and has paved the way for a shift away from mandatory sentencing policies.

  • FAMM’s federal legislative successes include the 1994 passage of a “safety valve” law that gives federal judges discretion to reduce sentences for nonviolent first-time drug offenders. Every year since 1994, 5,000 people — one in four nonviolent first-time drug offenders entering federal prison — have received sentence reductions of as much as three years because of that FAMM victory.
  • Hundreds of federal prisoners were freed or received shorter sentences, thanks to FAMM’s groundbreaking work in changing federal LSD and marijuana plant guidelines in 1994 and 1995, respectively.
  • FAMM spearheaded efforts to pass an historic amendment to the federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses. The new law was applied retroactively in 2007, giving 20,000 prisoners eligibility for sentence reductions.
  • Building upon that victory, FAMM championed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 in Congress, which repealed the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for possession of five grams of crack cocaine and changed the amount of crack cocaine that triggers other mandatory minimum sentences. Over 12,000 crack prisoners received shorter sentences as a result of that reform and countless more will benefit in the years ahead.
  • In 2014, FAMM was largely responsible for persuading the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce drug sentences for federal defendants and prisoners. As a result, over 40,000 drug prisoners will have their sentences recalculated and be released early. This includes 400 people serving life sentences who will now see freedom before they die.
  • FAMM’s state legislative successes include the reform of all drug mandatory minimum sentences in Michigan, including one that required life without parole for first-time drug offenders; reform of New Jersey’s mandatory school zone law; reform of mandatory drug and school zone sentencing laws in Massachusetts; and reform of mandatory minimum laws for certain gun offenses and prescription drug offenses in Florida.
  • Other important accomplishments include FAMM’s work to discourage new mandatory minimum sentencing laws and to improve and expand the federal commutations process. In 2001, the sentences of 17 FAMM members were commuted by President Clinton on the basis of FAMM recommendations. FAMM is now a founding member of the Clemency Project 2014, charged with sending President Obama hundreds of petitions for clemency from deserving prisoners. FAMM also assists with post-conviction appeals and files friend-of-the-court briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Julie is an effective and passionate advocate for sentencing reform. She has testified many times before Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission about mandatory sentences and prison overcrowding. She has debated and discussed mandatory minimum sentences on numerous national television networks, including Fox News, ABC News, CBS News, CNN News, NBC News, PBS News, MTV, and on countless radio and local television programs throughout the country. In 2012, Julie appeared in The House I Live In, an award-winning documentary film about the drug war.

Julie’s work to reform mandatory sentencing laws has been honored with many awards including the Thomas Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties, the Champion of Justice Award from the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, The Leadership for a Changing World award from the Ford Foundation, and the Citizen Activist Award from the Gleitsman Foundation.

Julie graduated magna cum laude from Mills College in Oakland, California, in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in International Relations.

Public Welfare Foundation