By Dianne Frazee-Walker
“Courtney called out, ‘Mom, you promised you weren’t going to leave us no more,’ ” Ms. George recalled, her eyes glistening. “I still hear that voice to this day, and he’s a grown man.”
Stephanie George, serving a life sentence without parole in Louisiana for a minor drug infraction still recalls the heartbreaking pleas from her eldest of 3 sons, Courtney, then 8, in 1997.
Ms. George is one of a half a million people in the U.S. locked away in prison for non-violent drug crimes.
When Ms. George was sentenced 15 years ago, her children were 5, 6 and 9. They have been raised by her sister, Wendy Evil, who says it was agonizing to take the children to see their mother in prison. They would fight over who gets to sit on their mother’s lap.
A lockbox, containing a half-kilogram of cocaine seized by police in Ms. George’s attic was sufficient evidence for Judge Vinson to be convinced of a crime severe enough for Ms. George to be separated from her children for the rest of her life.
Judge Vinson, whose reputation is anything but libertarian, defends that a formula dictated by the amount of cocaine in the lockbox and her previous criminal record was what determined Ms. George’s sentence.
Ms. George and Judge Vinson had conflicting views about the cocaine filled lockbox stashed away in Ms. George’s home. Ms. George claimed the cocaine was hidden in the attic and she was not aware it was hidden in her house. She insisted her drug dealing boyfriend placed the cocaine in the lockbox and hid it in the attic.
Originally, Ms. George and Judge Vinson did agree on the fairness of the sentence imposed by federal court because Ms. George was a known drug dealer and the cocaine was found in her house, even though her boyfriend was responsible for putting it there. The punishment for drug possession does not entail a life sentence.
By John Gramlich, CQ Roll Call
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Wednesday that she is conflicted about legislation to scale back mandatory minimum sentencing laws, signaling that lawmakers in both parties are wary of the effort ahead of a Senate Judiciary Committee markup in December.
Feinstein, the second-highest-ranking Democrat on the committee, said in an interview that she is “not comfortable” with legislation that would reduce criminal penalties for some offenders, even though Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., has strongly urged the panel to act on the issue.
“We’ve been wrestling with it,” Feinstein said. “For me right now, it’s not an easy question.”
The Judiciary Committee is expected to meet after the Thanksgiving recess to mark up four bills related to the federal prison system, including two that would effectively reduce criminal sentences and two that would allow some prisoners to earn earlier releases if they participate in rehabilitation programs. All four bills are aimed at curbing the rapid growth in the number of federal inmates.