Media Alert from Families Against Mandatory Minimums 12/20/97

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Landmark Minneapolis Star-Tribune Three-Part Series: Drug Sentences Often Stacked Against Women

On December 14, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune ran the first installment of a year-long investigative report--the first of its kind--into how federal drug laws affect women. The newspaper, and reporter Joe Rigert, conducted computer analysis of 60,000 federal drug sentences from 1992 through 1995, examined 118 court cases in depth and interviewed 55 women prisoners across the country. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) assisted the Star-Tribune by providing cases of women prisoners serving long mandatory drug sentences in prisons across the country.

The investigation confirmed that:

  • Many women, caught on the fringes of America's war on drugs, are serving longer prison sentences than men who organize, lead or supply drug operations.
  • Women -- often young, nonviolent first offenders -- go to prison for 10 to 20 years or more, while more culpable male offenders, encouraged by prosecutors to inform on their associates, including women, cut deals and serve shorter sentences.
  • Women are often too loyal, fearful, or know too little, to provide information to prosecutors in exchange for a shorter sentence.
  • Rigid mandatory sentencing policies prevent judges from imposing anything but the most severe penalties, despite a woman's lack of knowledge or limited role in a drug offense.
  • Children of incarcerated women pay the highest penalty, because judges also can't take them into account when sentencing their mothers, and more than half of female inmates are caring for families when they enter prison.
  • Sentencing disparities revealed by the investigation are by-products of the war on drugs that, since 1987, has increased the number of women in U.S. prisons four times. Women drug offenders make up two-thirds of all female inmates.

The entire series appeared in the Star-Tribune from December 14-16, 1997, and is available from the Star-Tribune's web site at At the Star-Tribune's home page, scroll down to the search engine and enter the words "drug war". The first article in the series appears under the link, "Drug Sentences Often Stacked Against Women." Please be sure to also read the "related items," which include statistics, sidebars and the heart wrenching stories of women prisoners and their families.

For more information on mandatory sentences, women in prison or how you can help FAMM's campaign to end unjust sentencing laws, please contact Monica Pratt at (202) 822-6700, or visit FAMM's website at

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Issue #23, 12/20/97 California's Prison Population Expected to Increase Dramatically | California Court Rules Cannabis Buyers' Clubs Not Caregivers Under 215 | Report on Institute of Medicine's First Public Hearing on Medicinal Marijuana | Cannabis Decriminalization Conference in the UK | Health Canada Set to Approve Medical Marijuana on a Case-by-Case Basis | Media Alert from Families Against Mandatory Minimums | November Coalition Spearheads National Show of Protest | Editorial: The drug warriors claim they are "Protecting our children?" | How to Donate to DRCNet

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