Friday, August 6, 2010

Thank God for the drug reform bill President Obama signed reducing the disparity in federalmandatory sentences between crack cocaine and powder cocaine convictions.The 25 year-old law that Congress just changed subjected tens of thousands of blacks to longprison terms for crack cocaine convictions while giving far more lenient sentences to those,mainly whites, caught with the powder form.
Blacks serve almost as much time for drug offenses (58 months) as whites do for violentoffenses (61 months). Though this new law is a congressional compromise, it is a huge stepforward in reforming our overly harsh and wasteful drug laws.
The old 1986 law was enacted at a time when crack cocaine was considered a violent drug.However, in 2002, twenty-eight U.S. Court of Appeals judges and many District Court Judgeswho were formerly U.S. Attorneys, wrote the Sentencing Commission condemning the notion asnot scientifically accurate and recommended its repeal.
There’s still much work to be done as the law applies to only federal defendants, not state laws.Most drug arrests occur at the state level.
We started this journey for justice in 2001. Our many trips to Washington, DC were coveredby the Dothan Eagle, WTVY, WDHN, Southeast Gazette and Rickey Stokes News. Local andregional debates followed with law enforcement officials that wanted to keep the DraconianLaws. The door opens again for those who have not participated in reform to join in doingso now. Otherwise they will be looked upon as preserving a racial caste system that wasabolished with chattel slavery.
We must continue to locally address related issues like lack of family support, ministry andrehabilitation of those incarcerated because of repressive attitudes toward “lawbreakers”, evenafter being “punished”. How long will we allow local political culture to shape our local socialculture by discretionary drug enforcement practice here–the real morally and socially unjustbehavior that destroys lives?
Pastor Kenneth GlasgowFounder, Executive DirectorThe Ordinary People Society (TOPS)403 West Powell St. Dothan, AL 36303Office / Fax: 334-671-2882Cell: 334-791-2433
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Pastor Kenneth Glasgow Writes About Drug Reform
Submitted by People of the Wiregrass on August 4, 2010 – 5:07 pmNo Comment

It’s hard to think of a more wasteful way to spend tax dollars than locking up marijuana users. But, in the midst of a budget crisis, this is exactly what Alabama is doing.
Your legislators could change that. Alabama is already taking a serious look at its sentencing practices — but they need some encouragement. So please, ask them to get their priorities straight and to support sentencing reform. Please urge legislators to introduce legislation to stop wasting money and ruining lives by incarcerating people for possessing marijuana.
There are clear harms entailed in the practice of putting lots of unenforceable or unenforced laws on the books and consigning a significant swathe of your population to the category of “lawbreakers”. On the one hand, this promotes contempt for the law. On the other hand, it allows police and government to lock up many people at will, since most people are always violating some law or another, and that’s a discretionary power that governments tend to abuse for repressive political purposes.
The government also derives extortionary power from its ability to lock people up at will, which leads to corruption. In autocratic countries across a wide spectrum of development, from Guinea to Russia, you tend to find all of these things occurring together: a broad range of normal economic and political behavior is criminalized, the citizens treat the law as an arbitrary set of irritating technicalities to be evaded, government uses police powers to repress political opposition, and police and government officials make their living by shaking people down.
Parts of this syndrome (criminalizing normal behavior, contempt for the law, shaking people down) also describe the way drug laws function in much of America. So the question arises of whether we should legalize pot. Sarah Palin recently said we shouldn’t, but that marijuana use isn’t much of a problem–and should be a low priority for law enforcement.
What I think what we’re seeing here is the wrong-headed notion that an appropriate way to express disapproval of a behavior is to simply make it illegal, but then wink and nod on enforcement as if this is some sort of middle ground.
If you don’t think a law should be enforced, you should support repeal of the law. All “compromise” accomplishes is granting police almost unfettered discretion. If smoking pot is still technically illegal, police can enforce the law when they choose, targeting certain people for arrest while turning a blind eye to others engaging in the exact same activity.
I’ve now learned in some of those foreign countries that are famously tolerant of drug use, it turns out that “tolerant” is the operative word. For example, while there are periodic calls in the Netherlands to move to complete legalization of soft drugs, that initiative never seems to get anywhere. But neither do calls for actual prosecution of marijuana possession and use.
So while the Netherlands, Denmark, and so forth are among the countries that court public contempt for the law and repressive police practices by keeping marijuana use illegal, they also keep the “lawbreakers” unpunished in practice. And yet these countries have failed to turn into Russia.
I think what we’re seeing in the United States is the impact of a national political culture shaping the practices of governance over other national social institutions when it comes to drug laws here. It would be nice if we could arrive at an ethically and logically consistent legal stance on drug use, but it may be that in practice that’s very hard to do, and not actually very important. Basically, while Sarah Palin’s position on this issue, as on many others, is semi-deliberately incoherent, it is in this case a semi-deliberate incoherence that has proven to be effective policy in many countries, and it might be the stance to begin on the issue in the United States.
Pastor Kenneth GlasgowFounder, Executive DirectorThe Ordinary People Society (TOPS)403 West Powell St. Dothan, AL 36303Office / Fax: 334-671-2882Cell: 334-791-2433

Thursday, June 10, 2010

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
T.O.P.S. (THE ORDINARY PEOPLE SOCIETY)CONTACT: REV. KENNETH GLASGOWADDRESS: 403 West Powell St. Dothan, AL 36303 Phone: 334-671-2882Website: www. http://www.wearetops.org
E-Mail: topssociety@yahoo.com
MISSISSIPPI INJUSTICE: A DOUBLE-LIFE SENTENCE FOR $11.00!
Dothan, Alabama —- In a trial fraught with legal malpractice and witness coercion, Mississippi Judge Marcus Gordon oversaw one of the most blatantly corrupt trials in history, culminating in the staggering over-sentencing of sisters Gladys and Jamie Scott to double-life each in an armed robbery where no one was murdered or harmed and transcripts state that the amount alleged to have been taken was a whopping $9.00 -$11.00.
Human rights activist, Dick Gregory, is urging everyone to support the June 21, 2010 Gray-Haired Witnesses Fast for Justice in Washington, DC. The upcoming day-long event will call attention and bring publicity to the shocking case of the Mississippi Scott Sisters, who have served 15 years 8 months of double life sentences each. The public fast, press conference and rally also calls attention to the entire system of justice which increasingly incarcerates and over-sentences.
The Ordinary People Society is in full endorsement of The Gray-Haired Witnesses for Justice National Day of Fast. T.O.P.S is headquartered in Dothan, Alabama and successfully operates as a nonprofit, faith-based organization that offers hope, without regard to race sex, creed, color or social status, to individuals and their families who suffer the effects of drug addiction, incarceration, homelessness, unemployment, hunger and illness, through comprehensive faith-based programs that provide a continuum of unconditional acceptance and care.
In addition to endorsing the Washington, DC Fast For Justice on June 21, 2010, T.O.P.S. is co-hosting The Scott Sisters Education Rally during the Juneteenth Celebration at Dalton Deer Park, 902 Dalton Street – Jackson Mississippi on June 19, 2010 from 11-am to 7pm. President and Founder Rev. Kenneth Glasgow feels that the Scott Sisters travesty of justice is an issue that should remain in the forefront globally. T.O.P.S. has chapters in the United States abroad. Rev. Glasgow has advised that all chapters support freedom for The Scott Sisters.
For more information about the Day of National Fast for the Scott Sisters
Gray-Haired Witnesses for Justice1- 866-968-1188, Ext. 2ghwitnesses@gmail.comhttp://www.grayhairedwitnesses.blogspot.com/
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The Ordinary People’s Society is pleased to announce the second “People’s Family Reunion for Formally Incarcerated People our Friends, Family & Loved ones” will take place at the second US Social Forum in Detroit, MI. TOPS is based in Alabama and is dedicated to solving the injustices around formally incarcerated people locally, state-wide, regionally and nationally. During the first US Social Forum we worked with partner organizations to develop the idea of a People’s Family Reunion to take place during social forums. The goal of the Family Reunion is to develop a space to gather, share strategies, build relationships across organizations & communities that are working on issues related to the prison industrial complex. The first People’s Family Reunion brought together almost 2000 people in a local park in Atlanta with speakers, food, and tables of organizations doing work to end the injustices that formally incarcerated people face in our society. TOPS would like to thank the local leadership in Detroit for helping to organize and host this Family Reunion process because we know what it means to have so many people coming from around the country to your city and the need to respect local leaders who are doing the work every day to make another world possible. Together we can make another historic gathering happen and advance the movement for social change as it relates to the Prison Industrial Complex.

If you would like to be involved in this years People Family Reunion please contact Reverend Kenneth Glasgow at: topssociety@yahoo.com

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Let My People Vote

May 20, 2010
Advocate: Alabama prisoners still being disenfranchisedBy Markeshia Ricks
With just one day left to register for the June 1 primary, the issue of prisoner and felon voting is once again in the spotlight, and at least one community organizer is concerned that a lack of knowledge and confusion over the issue could disenfranchise thousands of people who are eligible to vote this year.
The Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, a Dothan minister, said state and local officials continue to provide erroneous information about which felonies disqualify people to vote in the state and which ones don't.
He recently conducted a telephone survey of officials in county boards of registrars, city and county jails, and state prisons about inmates' voting rights.
"There is still a lot of confusion on who can vote and who cannot and what crimes involve moral turpitude and what crimes do not," he said. "We find ourselves doing a lot of damage control."
Under Alabama law, the only people who lose their voting rights are those who have been convicted of felonies that involve moral turpitude. Crimes such as murder, robbery, burglary, theft, or sale of a controlled substance are felonies that involve moral turpitude.
Those convicted of felonies that don't involve moral turpitude, such as driving under the influence, doing business without a license, speeding or possession of drugs without the intent to sell, do not lose their right to vote. In fact, people convicted of a possession charge can register to vote and vote by absentee ballot from the jail or prison where they are incarcerated.
People who have been convicted of misdemeanor crimes also do not lose their right to vote. Glasgow settled a lawsuit with the Alabama Department of Corrections two years ago after his efforts to register inmates to vote were shut down. The terms of the settlement allowed Glasgow to continue to tell prisoners about their voting rights and how to register but stopped short of allowing him to register inmates and turn in their forms. The Department of Corrections also agreed in the settlement to put up fliers, provided by Glasgow , on prison bulletin boards and in inmate law libraries about voting while incarcerated.
Glasgow said he was surprised when he discovered that many prison officials did not have the information about voting posted, didn't know whether the information was posted, or still believed that inmates are not allowed to vote.
He also found that there are boards of registrars that are telling people convicted of felony drug possession that they are ineligible to vote even though they aren't.
With more than 250,000 felons, Alabama had the third highest rate in the nation for disenfranchisement, according to a 2006 report. Glasgow said that has changed somewhat because court cases have clarified which felony convictions are disqualifying and which ones are not. But he said it hasn't changed enough because officials have dropped the ball when it comes to making sure that people understand the law.
Brian Corbett, spokesman with the Alabama Department of Corrections, said the state has not received new posters to put in prisons since the 2008 elections. Corbett said that the department would gladly put them up to comply with the agreement.
But Glasgow said the settlement does not require new posters each election cycle.
"The information hasn't changed since 2008," he said. "The agreement was that we would replace them if they are damaged, lost or destroyed."
But Glasgow said from what he can tell, some prisons never had them posted and no one is keeping track of whether the posters are being displayed according to the agreement.
"The state has an obligation to provide adequate information about the law and about this settlement," Glasgow said.
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse."
If people are having a problem with the issue, they're not calling the secretary of state or the attorney general's office about it.
Emily Thompson, chief of staff for Secretary of State Beth Chapman, said that the office had not had any questions, to her knowledge, about inmate and felon voting. She also said that she couldn't recall any guidance about the 2008 settlement and which inmates would be eligible to register to vote being provided to boards of registrars. Corbett said there also has been no ongoing effort to keep prisons current on the issue.
Ryan Haygood, co-director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., said that it's in the state's best interest to encourage all eligible people vote.
"It has been proven that those convicted of felonies are less likely to re-offend," said Haygood, one of the attorneys who worked on the Glasgow settlement.
Haygood, one of the attorneys who worked on the Glasgow settlement, said state and local officials should do whatever they can to make the process for eligible voters easier.
"It is in Alabama 's interest and interest of democracy to encourage everyone who is eligible to vote to register and then vote," he said.
"We shouldn't play keep away with people who are incarcerated about their rights, and keep them away from knowledge or actually voting," he said.
Glasgow said he along with organizations such as Drug Policy Alliance and the Equal Justice Initiative would keep pressing on the issue.