For possessing a trace amount of heroin, Paul Carter is 16 years into serving a life sentence. So too is Leon Horne but, for damaging two police cars while fleeing New Orleans police. The ACLU profiles both men in a new report drawing attention to a sobering legacy of 40 years of “tough on crime” policies. More than 3,000 people nationwide are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole (LWOP)—all for nonviolent offenses.
Of these nonviolent offenders, 65% are black, 17.8% are white and 15.7% are Latino. Most cluster in the south, with Louisiana ranked first among states for most LWOP prisoners. It’s presumed that the $1.8 billion spent by taxpayers to imprison these men, according to ACLU estimates, is significantly more than the repair cost of two police cruisers.
“If lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug addicts actually worked, one might be able to rationalize them,” says the report, citing one federal court judge. “But there is no evidence that they do. …[F]or all the times I’ve asked jurors after a drug conviction what they think a fair sentence would be, never has one given a figure even close to the mandatory minimum. It is always far lower.”