A new ACLU study highlights the consequences of sentencing non-violent offenders to Life without parole (commonly known as LWOP). Here’s the lede:
For 3,278 people, it was nonviolent offenses like stealing a $159 jacket or serving as a middleman in the sale of $10 of marijuana. An estimated 65% of them 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.
On a related note, Doug Berman notes that Sam Hurd, who once caught passes for the Dallas Cowboys, could be sentenced to life without parole after pleading guilty to a single drug transaction in April. Hurd actually received a sentence of fifteen years, but because his case involved a large quantity of drugs, life was an option. Hundreds of non-violent offenders have not been so lucky.
Burman notes the absurdity of giving a guy like Sam Hurd the same sentence recently meted out to Whitey Bulger, a notorious psychopath convicted of committing eleven murders (with the knowledge and apparent blessing of FBI officials). Bulger has been described as “Satan” by those who suffered under his FBI-enabled reign of terror. Yet he gets the same sentence as the hapless victims of the strange and arbitrary state and federal sentencing guidelines outlined in the ACLU report.
Some of the victim impact statements emerging from Bulger’s sentencing hearing covered by this account in USA Today give you a feel for the impact the man’s crimes had in dozens of lives:
Some recounted how the damage affected their families for years. Kathleen Connors Nichols, another child of Eddie Connors, told of the “mentally exhausting” stigma that murder leaves on a family. For kids, it means having to answer the question: How did your father die?
“Do you tell them the shocking truth — that he was practically cut in half from the overkill of ammo fired into his body?” Nichols said. “Or do you give them the PG version that will stop any subsequent questions?”
We hope the ACLU report will help a few death penalty opponents realize that LWOP isn’t much of an improvement, especially when we are talking about non-violent offenders with addiction and mental issues.