“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.”
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.”
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.
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.