A coalition of Democrats and Republicans guided by President Obama are calling for reform of the harsh federal criminal sentencing laws that have contributed to our crisis of mass incarceration. The United States has 25% of the world’s inmates despite having only 5% of the world’s population. The Urban Institute has reported that the federal prison population is in excess of 218,000 inmates. The federal inmate population in 1980 was approximately 25,000.
The federal and state prisons are filled with aging nonviolent drug offenders. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws-guidelines, and the draconian “three strikes, you’re out” statutes, have contributed to our national crisis of mass incarceration. The elimination of parole in 1987 for federal inmates was another major factor causing a ten fold increase in the federal prison population since 1980.
On Monday, July 14th, President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders. In a Facebook video, the president stated that the 46 prisoners had served sentences far in excess to their crimes. One of the 46 federal inmates was Douglas M. Lindsay, a first-time nonviolent offender.He was sentenced to life in prison in 1996. Mr.Lindsay was an Army veteran who worked with adults with mental disabilities. Sarah Godfrey of Families Against Mandatory Minimums indicated that Lindsay sold crack,“in what he now recognizes as a misguided attempt to finance his college education.”
Ronald Evans was not one of the 46 inmates given clemency by President Obama. Ronald Evans, of Virginia, was 18 years old when he was sentenced to life without parole for cocaine conspiracy. He was imprisoned for life even though he had only a mid-level role in a gang that he had joined at the age of 16. Ronald Evans, a nonviolent offender, is now 41, and has served 23 years of his life sentence.
Our prisons nationally are overcrowded by an estimated 40 percent. It can cost up to a million dollars to warehouse a nonviolent young inmate for life. There are 2.3 million Americans presently incarcerated in our federal, state, and local prisons and jails. Many of the inmates were convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. May President Obama and his coalition of Democrats and Republicans succeed with their prison reforms. It is time to bring this madness to an end.
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com