A new report by the ACLU documents the cases of over 3,000 people in the United States currently serving mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for non-violent, often petty crimes. Most if not all of the these people are victims of archaic “three strike” laws where the judges hands were tied when it came to sentencing them. And you know, what better way to mold an entire justice system than with catchy baseball terminology.
No one is saying that any of these people are saints but to have someone serving a life sentence for stealing a $159 coat to stay warm is indefensible. Until Americans realize and admit that we have all become victims of the private prisons whose number one goal is to turn a profit for their investors it’s doubtful that anything will be done to correct the situation. Private prisons spend millions of dollars a year lobbying for tougher sentencing to put and keep people in their prisons. If it’s not already obvious, the only people that this benefits is the prisons’ investors. It’s certainly not for the greater good of society.
At about 12.40pm on 2 January 1996, Timothy Jackson took a jacket from the Maison Blanche department store in New Orleans, draped it over his arm, and walked out of the store without paying for it. When he was accosted by a security guard, Jackson said: “I just needed another jacket, man.”
A few months later Jackson was convicted of shoplifting and sent to Angola prison in Louisiana. That was 16 years ago. Today he is still incarcerated in Angola, and will stay there for the rest of his natural life having been condemned to die in jail. All for the theft of a jacket, worth $159.
Jackson, 53, is one of 3,281 prisoners in America serving life sentences with no chance of parole for non-violent crimes. Some, like him, were given the most extreme punishment short of execution for shoplifting; one was condemned to die in prison for siphoning petrol from a truck; another for stealing tools from a tool shed; yet another for attempting to cash a stolen cheque.
“It has been very hard for me,” Jackson wrote to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as part of its new report on life without parole for non-violent offenders. “I know that for my crime I had to do some time, but a life sentence for a jacket value at $159. I have met people here whose crimes are a lot badder with way less time.”
Senior officials at Angola prison refused to allow the Guardian to speak to Jackson, on grounds that it might upset his victims – even though his crime was victim-less. But his sister Loretta Lumar did speak to the Guardian. She said that the last time she talked by phone with her brother he had expressed despair. “He told me, ‘Sister, this has really broke my back. I’m ready to come out.’”
Nation of Christians indeed.