At least 3,728 prisoners in the United States will spend the rest of their lives in prison for non-violent offenses according to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) study published on Wednesday.
The study found that 79 percent of these prisoners were convicted of nonviolent, drug-related crimes and 20 percent of nonviolent property crimes like shoplifting. Most of these cases were sentenced under mandatory minimum guidelines, for which judges had no choice but to dole out a life without parole sentence.
“Fairness has departed from the system,” said one judge as he sentenced a nonviolent offender to life in prison without parole.
In response to increasing criticism, Attorney General Eric Holder announced in August that the Justice Department would attempt to ease America’s overcrowded federal prisons by reducing mandatory drug sentences – a move that was cheered by liberals and conservatives, who favor a reduction in federal prison spending.
The study, “A Living Death,” also found a stark racial disparity: 65 percent of those sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent offenses are black and only 18 percent white. These findings coincide with previous studies showing that harsh sentencing laws unfairly target racial minorities.