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Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses

NCJ Number
Jennifer Turner
Date Published
November 2013
240 pages
This study documents the incarceration and consequent adversities of thousands of people sentenced to live the rest of their lives in a U.S. prison for committing a nonviolent crime.
The study reports that 3,278 individuals are serving life sentences in U.S. prisons without the possibility of parole. Of this number, approximately 79 percent were convicted of a nonviolent drug-related crime. In addition to the psychological and physical harms this inflicts on these inmates and their families, a detailed fiscal analysis shows that the public is paying $1.784 billion to fund these incarcerations. These findings are based on extensive documentation of the cases of 646 prisoners serving life without the possibility of parole for nonviolent offenses either in a Federal prison or in a prison of one of nine States included in this study. The data were obtained from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and State departments of corrections. The research also involved telephone interviews with prisoners, their lawyers, and family members; correspondence with prisoners serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses; a survey of 355 of such prisoners; and searches of media and court records. Recommendations for remedying the injustice and cruelty of such sentences for nonviolent offenders are addressed to the U.S. Congress, the executive branch of the Federal Government, State legislatures, and governors. Recommendations to the Congress are to end Federal sentences of life without parole for a nonviolent offense and make it retroactive with a requirement for re-sentencing. The recommendation to the executive branch is to use the power of executive clemency to commute these sentences. Similar recommendations are directed to State legislatures and governors. This report lists the types of nonviolent crimes for which individuals have been sentenced to life in prison without parole, and it presents 110 case studies. 16 tables, 12 figures, and 1,578 notes