"That’s cruel and unusual punishment to me.” -Angola Warden
November 13, 2013 1:31 PM   Subscribe

A LIVING DEATH: Sentenced to die behind bars for what?
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.

A LIVING DEATH: Life without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses (PDF)
posted by andoatnp (32 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
....because it needs to be said: private prisons with mandatory minimum numbers of prisoners.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 1:38 PM on November 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


these stories half way remind me of Brokedown Palace. which is one of the most depressing movies ever. ugh.
posted by sio42 at 1:41 PM on November 13, 2013


Any time some minor crime is reported in our local paper the good Christians who populate the comments section are nearly unanimous in their insistance that the perpetrator be locked up for life. There are a significant number of people who assume that even the pettiest criminal is irredeemable. What makes these people so callous mystifies me, but they are a vocal force behind these laws.
posted by TedW at 2:08 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Guardian piece

Words fail me at the sickness in the system, and at the people who KNOWINGLY set this up. This is not some 16-semi-reasonable-decisions coalescing into something-awful-yet-unexpected situation like so many modern horrors.

Psychopathic legislators, politicians and prison profiteers willfully and with malice, wrote and passed laws that uses the massive power of the state to take mostly poor people's freedom and dignity away - incarcerating them with rapists and murderers - FOREVER - for stealing $100 of goods.

**The market manipulations of still-unprosecuted bankers cost the US economy ~$100,000 PER AMERICAN citiizen. Every person in the USA has had this crime committed 1000 times against them by bankers. Even if this estimate is an order of magnitude off, this is an astonishing amount taken from the pocket of every man, woman and child in the USA.

With the crazy healthcare system in this country, losses of income, jobs and support (via smaller budgets in govt) has likely led to the premature deaths and sickening of thousands and thousands of people.

And yet not one banker sits in jail for a month, much less a lifetime!
**

If we hadn't created a hell already, I would wish for one for these psychopathic legislators, politicians and prison profiteers.
posted by lalochezia at 2:21 PM on November 13, 2013 [17 favorites]


Related Keith Knight comic pointing out that jailing an inmate in NYC for a year costs more than 4 years of Ivy League schooling.
posted by emjaybee at 2:48 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Recently I came across a post on Facebook about white privilege which I poopooed as liberal guilt. After reading this I am more than a little ashamed of my response. I am at a loss as to appropriate actions that would change this, outside of pardons from Obama for Federal prisoners trapped in non-violent LWOP. Maybe we should take away his peace prize until he does this.
posted by Xurando at 3:36 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]




If we hadn't created a hell already, I would wish for one for these psychopathic legislators, politicians and prison profiteers.
we should make a big unpleasant concrete house and put them in it
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:58 PM on November 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Isn't it the case that a lot of these people were caught under "three strikes" laws? They're not being imprisoned for life because of stealing a $159 jacket; they're being imprisoned for life because they're habitual criminals and if they were left free they'd keep right on breaking the law. Previous (relatively) brief periods of imprisonment didn't cause a change in behavior and it's evident that the prospect of future (relatively) brief periods of imprisonment won't deter them.

So how else do you stop them?

(And just in passing, the Supreme Court says this is not unconstitutional.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:33 PM on November 13, 2013


Any time some minor crime is reported in our local paper the good Christians who populate the comments section are nearly unanimous in their insistance that the perpetrator be locked up for life.

they're not christians, they're jehovahists
posted by pyramid termite at 4:34 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


So how else do you stop them?

well, i guess you don't - is the world going to end because people aren't stopped from petty-ass bullshit?
posted by pyramid termite at 4:38 PM on November 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


The documentary Serving Life is also about Angola Prison and the hospice program there. The warden comes off as a compassionate man there, as he does here, which makes me wonder about his stance on the Angola Three. "Serving Life" though is a really great documentary about the prisoners running and dying in the hospice program.
posted by hepta at 4:42 PM on November 13, 2013


well, i guess you don't - is the world going to end because people aren't stopped from petty-ass bullshit?

No, but the voters are going to get mad.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:42 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


And yet not one banker sits in jail for a month, much less a lifetime!

Does Bernie Madoff count?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:44 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


hmmm - didn't know the price of democracy involved human sacrifice - no, wait that was the aztecs

come to think of it, they were a lot more honest about it, weren't they?

and our supreme court says this is constitutional

my conclusion is that we have the wrong court, the wrong constitution and the wrong voters
posted by pyramid termite at 4:48 PM on November 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


They're not being imprisoned for life because of stealing a $159 jacket; they're being imprisoned for life because they're habitual criminals and if they were left free they'd keep right on breaking the law. Previous (relatively) brief periods of imprisonment didn't cause a change in behavior and it's evident that the prospect of future (relatively) brief periods of imprisonment won't deter them.

If people are committing crimes because they are irredeemable monsters, I'd agree with you. If people are committing crimes because they're human and making what seems like the best decision available to them, then your logic is faulty. Throwing someone in jail for brief periods of time doesn't deter future crime because it doesn't remove the reasons they commit crime. Throwing one person in jail for life doesn't deter other people from committing crimes for the same reason.
posted by muddgirl at 5:02 PM on November 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Throwing one person in jail for life doesn't deter other people from committing crimes for the same reason.

True, but it does prevent that one person from committing any more crimes. That's what the voters are looking at. It's not a perfect solution, but it was perceived as being better than the alternative.

There's a movement now the change the three-strikes laws to be three violent crimes rather than three any-kind-of crimes.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:13 PM on November 13, 2013


well, i guess you don't - is the world going to end because people aren't stopped from petty-ass bullshit?

Eventually, someday, yes.

Because injustice is remembered, magnified in the caverns of the mind, it grows and infuriates, that sense is passed on to children, spreads laterally through communities, becomes common knowledge, a demand for remedy, and if that demand is not met, ultimately violence. I am not saying this is how it should be, but how it is. It might take centuries, but it does happen eventually.

When people are not served by the institutions that they rely on, eventually, the institutions are overturned. And if civilization is built off the backs of the oppressed, then when those people stand, civilization falls.
posted by JHarris at 5:15 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


It sure sounded like various forms of "three strikes" laws contributed to a lot of this, albeit for some pretty low level crimes.

I guess this is all part of the "get tough on crime" mantra most people seem to profess.

Dunno what a solution might be...beyond the big changes in attitudes and systems many seem to fantasize about....
posted by CrowGoat at 5:17 PM on November 13, 2013


Because injustice is remembered, magnified in the caverns of the mind, it grows and infuriates, that sense is passed on to children, spreads laterally through communities, becomes common knowledge, a demand for remedy, and if that demand is not met, ultimately violence.

well, it's a damned good thing we've only had to deal with wars, genocide and slavery in our past

just imagine the mess we'd be in if people had been stealing 159$ jackets and brokering 10 buck marijuana deals, too
posted by pyramid termite at 5:24 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


True, but it does prevent that one person from committing any more crimes. That's what the voters are looking at. It's not a perfect solution, but it was perceived as being better than the alternative.

The only way to combat misinformation is with information, like this article. It's completely irrational to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to prevent one person from having the freedom to commit crimes. Better, at a bare minimum, to take that money and just give people free jackets or drugs in the first place.
posted by muddgirl at 5:28 PM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dunno what a solution might be...beyond the big changes in attitudes and systems many seem to fantasize about....
You have people in the states, for instance, advocating the end of anonymity and stuff over internet badwordz, so I don't think any changes we might get are going to be the kind you'll like. It's looking like the weathervanes are blowing in the direction of more and more-punitive regulation, but hey, at least you'll be able to sell the FBI shit or work as a prison guard.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:59 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]




Dunno what a solution might be...beyond the big changes in attitudes and systems many seem to fantasize about....

Oh, very specific things could be done. Like getting rid of mandatory minimums, which are a huge problem-- not just for three-strike offenders, but for people caught in "conspiracy" charges.
posted by BibiRose at 8:53 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


This makes me too angry to even coherently comment. So I guess I'll focus on the positive and say I'm really glad the ACLU exists??
posted by threeants at 11:19 PM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's completely irrational to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to prevent one person from having the freedom to commit crimes.

One person committing crimes can easily impose "thousands and thousands" of dollars of costs on the rest of society.

My house was robbed in 2009. I lost about $4000 worth of stuff, and spent another thousand or so dollars - plus quite a bit of my own time - beefing up my home security. And that's a cost that some criminal (actually, I think it was two) was able to impose on me in just a few minutes. If that person imposed $5000 of costs on society in a day, that's literally millions of dollars per year.

Yes, my insurance covered most of the financial loss, but the good people at Farmers Insurance are part of society too.
posted by Hatashran at 6:05 AM on November 14, 2013


Chocolate Pickle: "Previous (relatively) brief periods of imprisonment didn't cause a change in behavior and it's evident that the prospect of future (relatively) brief periods of imprisonment won't deter them.

So how else do you stop them?
"

Even if you have no problem with this set up morally as a system it's completely non cost effective. What kind of sane society spends 10s of thousands of dollars annually, and commits to doing so for decades, to prevent a few thousand dollars in petty crime?
posted by Mitheral at 6:17 AM on November 14, 2013


The prosecutors tried to get Sam Hurd sentenced to life without parole for a kilogram of coke.
posted by bukvich at 6:54 AM on November 14, 2013


So how else do you stop them?

I'm going to argue that for at least some of this shit, you stop people from committing crimes by giving them lives that have real options--by providing people with education and the ability to access it, which means that it's affordable (please read FREE), that you get a living stipend while you're doing it, and there's on-site childcare.

You stop people from committing crimes by improving public assistance so that it's a functional safety net and not something that can only be accessed by the most determined and the most desperate--so that the eighty percent of US adults who will experience poverty or near-poverty in their lifetimes have access to assistance and don't find themselves resorting to stealing wallets so that they can go to a goddamn ihop.

You stop people from committing crimes by making them feel that they're valued members of society, and that their lives have worth, and that they themselves are just as human and deserving of basic human comforts as the president and the banks. And then you, you know, treat them with the dignity that people deserve by virtue of being human beings. It's not some weird coincidence that 65% of the people in this study were black--it's a systematic devaluing and marginalizing of the lives of people of color.

You stop people from committing crimes by decriminalizing minor drug use amongst adults and viewing major drug use as an illness to be treated by a comprehensive system of national healthcare, not a moral failing to be dealt with by incarcerating someone.

This isn't rocket science, and I'm not saying anything that other, smarter people haven't said before. But we as Americans are more interested in making sure that people who do bad things are punished than we are in making sure that people who do bad things don't do them again--our system is set up to be punitive, not rehabilitative. We don't want to stop people from committing crimes. We just want to feel that "those people"--because it's always someone who's not like us, right?--are getting "what they deserve". Which, apparently, is billions of taxpayer dollars a year--as long as those dollars are being used to punish, not to help. Yay America!
posted by MeghanC at 9:24 AM on November 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


Chocolate Pickle: "Isn't it the case that a lot of these people were caught under "three strikes" laws? They're not being imprisoned for life because of stealing a $159 jacket; they're being imprisoned for life because they're habitual criminals and if they were left free they'd keep right on breaking the law. "

Your premise - that anyone who commits three crimes in the course of their life is an unredeemable threat to society - is laughable at best; dauntingly ignorant of the concept of rehabilitation is more likely.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:08 PM on November 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm a mature adult who believes in the rule of law *sentences someone to life for stealing my flatscreen*
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:52 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


So what about people who habitually abuse their partners or children or animals? How come there are no three strikes laws for them? Maybe its because so many of us care more about our flatscreens than the lives of other people we don't know.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:37 AM on November 16, 2013


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