Target: President Barack Obama
Goal: End mandatory life imprisonment for nonviolent offenders
There are currently 3,278 people living out life imprisonment without parole for nonviolent drug and property crimes in the United States federal and state prison systems. This unnecessarily strict and mechanical incarceration costs taxpayers $1.784 billion annually, and that cost will continue to rise until these prisoners’ lives are over. Many of these prisoners were never given a chance to plead their individual cases and receive proper punishment to fit their crimes.
In 83.4% of cases, judges were forced to send offenders to prison for a mandatory lifetime sentence solely because of mandatory sentencing laws. The judges presiding over the details of these cases had no choice in the matter. If the defendant was found guilty, they were automatically sentenced to a life in prison due to habitual offender laws, statutory penalty enhancements, mandatory minimum periods of imprisonment, three-strike requirements, or other sentencing rules. If the prosecutor has decided to charge a defendant with a sentencing enhancement that triggers a sentence of life without parole, the judge is helpless to decide against it, regardless of their views. In many of these cases, judges will state on record that they opposed the mandatory sentence and felt it was far too severe, but they cannot do anything about it.
The individual lives and stories of these prisoners are heartbreaking. Dicky Joe Jackson, one victim of life-without-parole sentencing, was indicted for selling and transporting methamphetamine to pay for his son’s life-saving bone marrow transplant. Sharanda Pulette Jones is serving a life sentence without the chance of parole based on the shoddy testimony of co-conspirators who received reduced sentences due to their statements, and therefore had great interest in fabricating their story. Her daughter was only nine years old when she was incarcerated fourteen years ago, and now her daughter will have to grow up without her mother. Lance Saltzman took a gun from his abusive stepfather’s house to protect his mother after his stepfather repeatedly shot at her and threatened her, and he was charged with armed burglary. He has been serving his life sentence since he was eighteen years old for trying to protect his mother.
Even if every single prisoner was fairly indicted for crimes they indeed committed maliciously, which is highly unlikely given our prison system’s heinous history of racism, and classism, these people do not deserve a punishment so absurdly severe. It is unconscionable. We are throwing these people away, and it must end. Please sign this petition to end mandatory sentencing laws in the United States.
Dear President Barack Obama,
I am calling on you to please end mandatory sentencing laws in the United States. Not only do these laws unfairly punish the poor and minorities because of the already rampant racism and classism in our prison systems, but they are also an affront to human rights, not to mention a drain on the economy.
These laws push nonviolent offenders through a faceless bureaucratic machine where their lives hang in the balance. We are deeming human beings worthless by right of their petty crimes and we are throwing their lives away.
Mandatory sentencing for nonviolent offenses must end. We must treat defendants individually and stop this cruel and unusual punishment.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: Dylan Oliphant via Wikimedia Commons