Leila McDowell, Communications Director
Dozens of former prisoners, presidential commutation recipients, and affected family members descend on Washington to celebrate 25th anniversary of historic sentencing reform organization.
WASHINGTON – Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the nation’s leading sentencing reform organization, will celebrate its 25th anniversary on March 24 in Washington, D.C. Former prisoners and their families, presidential commutation recipients, and advocates from around the country will gather for an evening of celebration and a renewed commitment to reforming our country’s sentencing laws.
“When I began FAMM in 1991, I wanted to humanize sentencing policies so legislators would understand how their laws impact real people,” said FAMM president Julie Stewart. Stewart began FAMM after her brother received a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for a nonviolent marijuana offense. “Twenty-five years ago, very few people had heard of mandatory minimum laws or knew of their disastrous effects. Today, 77 percent of the public says lawmakers should eliminate mandatory minimums. Across the country, we see state after state repealing or reforming their mandatory sentencing laws. And in Washington, DC, a Democratic president and a Republican speaker of the house both agree that reforming mandatory minimums should get done this year. We’ve come a long way.”
Over the past 25 years, more than 310,000 people have benefited from sentencing reforms championed by FAMM at the federal and state level. Stewart said the group’s biggest victories include: repealing drug mandatory minimum laws in Michigan in 1998 and 2002; securing congressional passage of the so-called “safety valve” in 1994 to give judges discretion to bypass mandatory sentences for first-time, low-level drug offenders; persuading the U.S. Sentencing Commission to adopt changes to reduce its drug sentencing guidelines during the past 20 years; and supporting passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 to reduce the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity.
Along the way, FAMM’s cause has been embraced by individuals and advocates from across the ideological spectrum. Stewart said in addition to working with traditional criminal justice reform allies, she has sought out and collaborated with unlikely allies on the political right, including the American Conservative Union, Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform, Koch Industries, The Heritage Foundation, the National Rifle Association, FreedomWorks, and hundreds of former federal and state prosecutors and law enforcement officials.
“Our secret weapon all these years has been the families who have been willing to let us share their stories in order to put a human face on this disastrous policy,” Stewart said. “That’s why our dinner this week will shine a light on dozens of former prisoners and their families.” Stewart said FAMM also plans to honor the attorneys and advocates who have helped dozens of former prisoners receive sentence commutations from the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.
“We still have a lot of work to do to eliminate mandatory minimums, but every now and then, it’s helpful to take stock of how far we’ve come and to express our gratitude to those who have shared the journey,” said Stewart. “These moments of reflection also provide an opportunity for us to renew our commitment to our shared cause. FAMM is looking forward to playing a leading role in the battles that lie ahead.”