Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Povah: On Women, Prison, Clemency

Amy Ralston Povah was arrested for collecting bail money for her husband, who manufactured MDMA. When all was said and done, he walked away with three years' probation and she got a 24 year sentence on a "drug conspiracy" charge.  He "cooperated" with the prosecutors. She refused a plea bargain. But Bill Clinton commuted her sentence on July 7, 2000—after she had served 9 years and 3 months. As she puts it, she felt like she had won "the lottery."

Povah says she had a "mix of bittersweet emotions" this summer when President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders. She writes:
Although I’m happy for these recipients, prison reform advocates like myself were hoping for more. ... Having served time with over a thousand women, I believe they are the hardest hit victims in the war on drugs. Many women are indicted because they are merely a girlfriend or wife of a drug dealer, yet are not part of the inner circle and have limited information to plea bargain with. 
Povah believes women "are being overlooked" by the Department of Justice when it comes to commutations of sentence. She notes that, over the last 30 years, the female prison population has grown by over 800% and "more than half of the mothers in prison were the primary financial supporters of their children before they were incarcerated." Even more pointedly:
 ... the vast majority of women in federal prison were put there due to conspiracy laws that hold them equally culpable for the criminal actions of other co-defendants, often a spouse or boyfriend. In other words, many women are guilty by association. There are hundreds of women sitting in federal prison on drug conspiracy charges who deserve clemency—most of them first offenders serving life without parole. 
Of course, "with a stroke of his pen" President Obama can "give these deserving women a second chance at life." Povah suggests that he starts "right away." She has written an editorial which provides these insights several other, more personal insights, into her experience in prison here.

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