Monday, May 13, 2019
Rejecting The Wisdom Of The Rome Statute: US Life Sentences Without Parole for First Time Non-Violent Offenders
The ACLU recently published a powerful report on individuals incarcerated for life for non-violent crimes. The investigators uncovered 3,248 individuals who are incarcerated for life for minor offenses. The report, A Living Death: Life Without Parole For Non-Violent Offenses, documents cases where minor crimes were committed by those who were mentally ill, addicted or financially desperate at the time of the offense. The offenses were petty. One stole a $159.00 jacket. Another participated in a $10.00 drug deal. More than half of the offenders are black. Even in the era of mass incarceration, these sentences are extreme. Many of those sentenced to life without parole for non-violent offenses were first-time offenders caught up in drug deals.
The women, many of whom were involved in crime because of their partner's drug operations, received life sentences but had no prior convictions. Many were sentenced under mandatory sentencing. Some judges commented on the unfairness of the sentences. One man was sentenced to life without parole when he was a juvenile. One woman was sentenced under conspiracy laws for drug conspiracy when she never saw nor touched drugs.
The report makes several recommendations, primarily legislative, that would eliminate life without parole for non-violent offenses and to make the change retroactive.
The report contains a section on comparative law citing that the "US is virtually alone in its willingness to sentence people to die behind bars for non-violent crimes." The report notes that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court requires a review of all life sentences after 25 years. Yet the US has not mandatory review. Indeed, the per capita rate of US offenders serving sentences of life without parole is 51 times greater than Australia and 173 times greater than the United Kingdom. By its terms, life without parole prohibits review in the US.