More than 3,200 were serving life in prison last year for nonviolent crimes, according a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union. The vast majority — 83 percent — were sentenced under mandatory minimum guidelines. Eight out of every 10 cases involved drugs, and two-thirds of the nonviolent lifers were black. The data came from the federal prison system and just nine states, so the actual number of nonviolent lifers is likely much higher.
The report, “A Living Death: Sentenced to Die Behind Bars for What?,” was researched and written by the ACLU’s Jennifer Turner. It gives anecdotal examples of a number of people who got long sentences for relatively minor offenses. The convictions were for such things as possessing a crack pipe, possessing stolen wrenches, siphoning gasoline from a truck, stealing tools and a welding machine and shoplifting three belts from a department store. The report said, “Life-without-parole sentences for nonviolent offenses defy common sense, are grotesquely out of proportion to the conduct they seek to punish, and offend the principle that all people have the right to be treated with humanity and with respect for their inherent dignity.”