More Than 3,000 U.S. Prisoners Serve Life without Parole for Non-Violent Crimes
Thousands of prisoners in U.S. correctional facilities will serve the rest of their lives behind bars, without any chance of parole, and all for committing non-violent crimes.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) identified 3,281 inmates who will never leave prison, even though they did not commit murder.
Among them are men and women who shoplifted, stole gasoline or tools, or tried cashing a stolen check, and as a result, wound up being sentenced to life without parole.
African-Americans make up the vast majority of these individuals: 65%. In one state, Louisiana, 91% of those serving life for non-violent crimes are black.
“Many of them were struggling with mental illness, drug dependency or financial desperation when they committed their crimes. None of them will ever come home to their parents and children. And taxpayers are spending billions to keep them behind bars,” the ACLU wrote in its report.
Today, about 2.3 million people are in custody in U.S. jails or prisons, giving the United States the distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world.
The U.S. is “virtually alone in its willingness to sentence non-violent offenders to die behind bars,” report author Jennifer Turner stated. The United Kingdom is one of only two European countries that hand out such sentences, but it has been done in only 49 murder cases. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that sentencing someone to life without parole for a non-violent crime is a human rights violation.
The “war on drugs” has been largely responsible for the country’s bloated penal system, with 80% of the prisoners serving life without parole for non-violent offenses convicted of drug-related crimes.
“It's ridiculous, because the name of our business is 'corrections' – to correct deviant behavior,” Angola, Louisiana prison warden Burl Cain told The Guardian. “If I'm a successful warden and I do my job and we correct the deviant behavior, then we should have a parole hearing. I need to keep predators in these big old prisons, not dying old men.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman
To Learn More:
A Living Death: Sentenced to Die Behind Bars for What? (American Civil Liberties Union)
Over 3,000 U.S. Prisoners Serving Life without Parole (by Ed Pilkington, The Guardian)
Limiting Incarceration of Non-Violent Offenders Could Save Billions (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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