The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] published [press release] a study [text, PDF] on Wednesday finding that 3,278 Americans are currently serving life sentences without parole for nonviolent offenses. The study, entitled "A Living Death: Life without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses," explains the racial and gender makeup of the inmates, as well as the state of the law that has led to the increasing rate at which nonviolent offenders are being sentenced to life without parole. In this analysis, the report makes particular note of mandatory minimum sentences stemming from "repeat offender" laws. "The punishments these people received are grotesquely out of proportion to the crimes they committed," said author Jennifer Turner. "In a humane society, we can hold people accountable for drug and property crimes without throwing away the key." The study also points out extreme racial disparity in the sentencing patterns and the economic burden of a life-without-parole sentence.
The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in June to limit the use of prior convictions to enhance the sentences of those convicted of federal crimes. In May the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] ruled that the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) [text, PDF] entitled [JURIST report] those convicted of crack cocaine offenses to resentencing trials for retroactive relief from racially discriminatory mandatory minimum sentences. The US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in January that sentencing juveniles to life without parole was unconstitutional. The Fair Sentencing Act was passed [JURIST report] into law in August 2010, and was intended to help reduce racial disparities in drug sentencing by closing the sentencing gap between possession of crack cocaine and powder cocaine.