In 1925, the US jailed 1 in 100,000 women. In 2006, it jailed 1 in 746. The 1984 Sentencing Reform Act and mandatory minimum sentence laws need to be repealed for the protection of families, communities and society as a whole. The film, Perversion of Justice , highlights the experiences of one family victimized by these laws.
A film by the Reverend Melissa Mummert Border Walk Productions Changemaker Award at the 2008 Media That Matters Festival Run time: 30 minutes Website: www.PerversionOfJustice.com
In Perversion of Justice, filmmaker Melissa Mummert potently calls for prison sentencing reform. She highlights the victimization of one family caused by extreme penalties imposed for peripheral support of small time drug dealers. Examining the social costs, Mummert exposes the rank injustice and provides action links for battling outrageous terms meted for nonviolent crimes.
The story of Hamedah Hasan and her three children exemplify the need to repeal the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, and the mandatory minimum laws. Legal commentators bolster the argument, including the trial judge. The film asserts that the public cost for warehousing nonviolent prisoners is $30,000 a year. A review of legal documents reveals that over a four-year period, the drug selling operation earned $180,000. Divided among the three defendants, that's $15,000 a year in earnings. Society deserves a more judicially and fiscally sane policy in dealing with drug offenders.
Perversion of Justice is perfectly adapted for showing at faith-based and social justice meetings, allowing time for Q&A within a one-hour format. This 8-minute teaser should provoke interest in the 30-minute version that won the Changemaker Award at the 2008 Media That Matters Festival:
No stranger to the US penal system, Mummert watched her father's peace advocacy land him a six-month prison stay. In 1992, he organized a protest of the missile silo sites in Missouri. His crime: planting a white pansy on Air Force soil. With her father's activist background, it is not surprising that Mummert chose to intern at a prison while a student at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley.
While interning as a prison chaplain, Mummert learned of harsh sentences imposed on drug users and small time dealers, and began to research the topic. She pored through several case studies provided by Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Hamedah made the best case for public review: she had no prior run-ins with the law, her actions only peripherally supported small time drug deals, and she is a single parent who was pregnant at the time of sentencing. No better case for leniency could be made.
But compassion is not a hallmark of the US justice system, where female incarceration rates jumped 64% from 1995 to 2006. For a longer view showing a cultural shift toward imprisonment, the US jailed one in 746 women in 2006, up from one in 100,000 back in 1925. Compared to other nations, the female portion of the prison population is highest in the US at 9%. In 2006, two-thirds of incarcerated women in the US were mothers; and three-fourths had symptoms or a clinical diagnosis of mental illness, and/or received treatment from a mental health professional in 2005. (WAP)
Hat tip to Rob Ellman
Worse, Hamedah Hasan is black in a nation that universally convicts people of color at rates far above those for whites, and for longer terms. In 2006, the incarceration rate per 100,000 for whites was 409, and 2,468 for blacks. That's an imprisonment rate of nearly 3 in 100 for blacks, or six times higher than for whites. The film mentions Hasan's "Do Not Snitch" value; given these statistics, that value better serves human rights than cooperating with authorities.
Even the form of cocaine most readily available to poor blacks crack cocaine receives far harsher sentences than does the powdered form. Hamedah Hasan's case is featured in the most recent issue of Crack the Disparity, which also reports that the Obama-Biden Transition Team "has made elimination of the federal sentencing disparity for crack cocaine offense a key goal on its Agenda for Change" under its Civil Rights agenda.
The Sentencing Project reports that "The rapid growth of women's incarceration at nearly double the rate for men over the past two decades is disproportionately due to the war on drugs." The federal Bureau of Prisons generally agrees: "As a result of Federal law enforcement and new legislation that dramatically altered sentencing in the Federal criminal justice system, the 1980s brought a significant increase in the number of Federal inmates. In fact, most of the Bureau's growth from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s was the result of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (which established determinate sentencing, abolished parole, and reduced good time) and mandatory minimum sentences enacted in 1986, 1988, and 1990." This chart graphically shows the marked increase for all inmates (prison and jails) for the past 100 years:
Featured in Perversion of Justice, the trial judge in Hamedah's case is no stranger to balking at sentencing guidelines. Richard George Kopf was appointed to the federal bench by George the Elder in 1992. Early this year, he published his Top 10 List of sentencing debacles. Here's one:
"9. You don't need experience in actually sentencing people in order to totally screw up the law of sentencing. It is telling and painfully obvious that not a single Justice ever had to look a federal defendant in the eye while not knowing what law to apply."