ACLU Report Shows Petty Crimes Lead to Abnormally Long Prison Sentences

A wire fence around a prison building

We all have to live with the decisions we make in life. However, some people are reminded of their decisions daily in the worst possible way. According to a report released this month by the American Civil Liberties Union, 3,200 people are serving life sentences without parole in state and federal prisons for committing non-violent crimes.

The crimes that lead land such prisoners in jail for life include acting as a go-between in the sale of $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer, taking a television, circular saw, and a power converter from a vacant house, and making a drunken threat to a police officer while being handcuffed in the back of a patrol car.

The report highlights the stories of 110 men and women who are currently serving their life sentences. The stories are ones that people can relate to and sympathize with. However, due to harsh sentencing laws put in place in the 1980s and 1990s, these people face devastating impacts from their actions. 

There is also a staggering amount of racial disparity within the report. Of those serving, 65% are black, 18% are white, and 16% are Latino.

In the report, Judge Milton I. Shadur told Rudy Martinez as he sentenced Martinez to life without parole, "Fairness has departed from the system."

The ACLU is creating a public awareness campaign for those currently serving life without parole in state and federal systems. This report is the beginning push to raise awareness to change these extreme laws, and will be featured with many national news outlets. The ACLU also hopes to push the court system to reevaluate their views on what it means for crimes to be considered "violent" with the hope of abolishing extreme treatment of non-violent crimes. 

(Charts and images courtesy of ACLU)