Federal inmates aged 55 and older, many of whom got life sentences amid the war on drugs of the 1990s, are among the fastest growing population of incarcerees in the U.S., reports USA Today
Aging prisoners are putting the greatest financial burden on U.S. prisons, while posing the lowest threat to society, according to the first installment of a series about prisoners serving life sentences for non-violent crimes published in conjunction with the Buried Alive Project.
The current population in that age group is approximately 20,000.
From 1993 to 1996, nearly 800 drug offenders were sentenced to life without parole in federal prison, according to the Buried Alive Project, which tracks rates by year and state. That’s 57 percent higher than during the previous four-year period.
Prosecutors often push plea deals on defendants in exchange for information. The rejection of those deals sometimes means elevated charges that result in mandatory minimum federal sentences, including life.
Giving prosecutors the ability to manipulate sentencing is a “recipe for abuses” and eliminates the judge’s ability to act as a neutral third party who hands down fair sentences that keep in mind the defendant’s personal and criminal history, and that weigh socio-economic factors that may lead to criminal activity, says former federal judge Kevin Sharp of Nashville.
Mandatory minimums, he says, “encourage (prosecutors) to overcharge people either because they are trying to extract some kind of cooperation from them or it’s just vindictive.”