The Economist has a painful piece about mandatory life sentences in the United States, much of which is drawn from a new report by the ACLU entitled “A Living Death.” A few interesting points:
- At least 3,278 people are serving life sentences without parole for non-violent crimes.
- “Around 79% of them were convicted of drug crimes. These include: having an unweighably small amount of cocaine in a shirt pocket, selling $10-worth of crack to a police informant and mailing small amounts of LSD to fellow Grateful Dead fans. Property crimes that earned offenders a permanent home in prison include shoplifting three belts, breaking into an empty liquor store and possessing stolen wrenches.
- One-fifth of those non-violent offenders with mandatory life sentences without parole were given this penalty for a first offense.
The brief story is full of interesting and disturbing facts about the racial biases in sentencing and the overall costs. There is much, much, more on the ACLU website for the report. All of this should prove more than a bit disturbing for those who care about civil liberties, the failed war on drugs, and the growth of the surveillance state.