A study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reveals a rising number of life-without-parole (LWOP) sentences for those convicted of non-violent crimes. The ACLU study, “A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses,” discovered that across America, in federal and state prisons, 3, 278 inmates will die behind bars for crimes such as siphoning gasoline from a truck, shoplifting, and breaking into a car and stealing a bagged lunch. This number reflects prisoners serving LWOP in the federal correctional system and in prisons in nine states.
Highlights include from “A Living Death” include:
About 79 percent of these 3,278 prisoners are serving LWOP for nonviolent drug crimes.
Nearly two-thirds of prisoners are serving LWOP for nonviolent offenses nationwide are in the federal system; of these, 96 percent are serving LWOP for drug crimes.
More than 18 percent of federal prisoners surveyed by the ACLU
are serving LWOP for their first offenses.
Of the states that sentence nonviolent offenders to LWOP, Louisiana, Florida,Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Oklahoma have the highest numbers of prisoners serving LWOP for nonviolent crimes, largely due to three-strikes and other kinds of habitual offender laws that mandate an LWOP sentence for the commission of a nonviolent crime.
The overwhelming majority (83.4 percent) of the LWOP sentences for nonviolent crimes surveyed by the ACLU were mandatory. In these cases, the sentencing judges had no choice in sentencing due to laws requiring mandatory
minimum periods of imprisonment, habitual offender laws, statutory penalty enhancements, or other sentencing rules that mandated LWOP.
The ACLU found that it will cost taxpayers $1.784 billion to lock away these 3,278 human beings s for life So what crimes warranted such harsh and expensive sentences?
possession of a crack pipe
possession of a bottle cap containing a trace, unweighable amount of heroin
having a trace amount of cocaine in clothes pockets that was so minute it was invisible tothe naked eye and detected only in lab tests
having a single, small crack rock at home
possession of 32 grams of marijuana withintent to distribute
acting as a go-between in the sale of $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer
selling a single crack rock
verbally negotiating another man’s sale of two small pieces of fake crack to an undercover officer
serving as a middleman in the sale of $20 of crack to an undercover officer
sharing several grams of LSD with Grateful Dead concertgoers
having a stash of over-the-counter decongestant pills that could be manufactured
The ACLU found gross racial disparity in sentencing individuals with LWOP:
Nationwide 65.4 percent of prisoners serving LWOP for nonviolent offenses are Black, 17.8 percent are white, and 15.7 percent are Latino.
In the 646 cases examined for this report, the ACLU found that 72.9 percent of these documented prisoners serving LWOP for nonviolent offenses are Black, 19.8 percent are white, and 6.9 percent are Latino.
The ACLU makes several recommendations on ending LWOP sentences for nonviolent offenders including:
Congress should end federal nonviolent LWOP parole and make that elimination retroactive.
The President should use his executive clemency powers to commute the sentences of all prisoners serving LWOP sentences for non-violent crimes.
State governors should also use their powers to provide clemency for those sentenced to LWOP for nonviolent offenses.