Over 3,000 US prisoners serving life without parole for non-violent crimes
ACLU report chronicles thousands of lives ruined by life sentences for crimes such as shoplifting or possession of a crack pipe
13 November 2013
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.'”
Lumar said that she found her brother's sentence incomprehensible. “This doesn't make sense to me. I know people who have killed people, and they get a lesser sentence. That doesn't make sense to me right there. You can take a life and get 15 or 16 years. He takes a jacket worth $159 and will stay in jail forever. He didn't kill the jacket!”
The ACLU's report, A Living Death, chronicles the thousands of lives ruined and families destroyed by the modern phenomenon of sentencing people to die behind bars for non-violent offences. It notes that contrary to the expectation that such a harsh penalty would be meted out only to the most serious offenders, people have been caught in this brutal trap for sometimes the most petty causes.
Ronald Washington, 48, is also serving life without parole in Angola, in his case for shoplifting two Michael Jordan jerseys from a Foot Action sportswear store in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 2004. Washington insisted at trial that the jerseys were reduced in a sale to $45 each – which meant that their combined value was below the $100 needed to classify the theft as a felony; the prosecution disagreed, claiming they were on sale for $60 each, thus surpassing the $100 felony minimum and opening him up to a sentence of life without parole.
“I felt as though somebody had just taken the life out of my body,” Washington wrote to the ACLU about the moment he learnt his fate. “I seriously felt rejected, neglected, stabbed right through my heart.”
He added: “It's a very lonely world, seems that nobody cares. You're never ever returning back into society. And whatever you had or established, its now useless, because you're being buried alive at slow pace.”
Louisiana, where both Washington and Jackson are held, is one of nine states where prisoners are serving life without parole sentences for non-violent offences (other states with high numbers are Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Carolina). An overwhelming proportion of those sentences – as many as 98% in Louisiana – were mandatory: in other words judges had no discretion but to impose the swingeing penalties.
The warden of Angola prison, Burl Cain, has spoken out in forthright terms against a system that mandates punishment without any chance of rehabilitation. He told the ACLU: “It's ridiculous, because the name of our business is 'corrections' – to correct deviant behaviour. If I'm a successful warden and I do my job and we correct the deviant behaviour, then we should have a parole hearing. I need to keep predators in these big old prisons, not dying old men.”
The toll is not confined to the state level: most of those non-violent inmates held on life without parole sentences were given their punishments by the federal government. More than 2,000 of the 3,281 individuals tracked down on these sentences by the ACLU are being held in the federal system. Overall, the ACLU has calculated that taxpayers pay an additional $1.8bn to keep the prisoners locked up for the rest of their lives.
On April 11, 1945, American agents discovered the secret underground factory in Germany where thousands of V-2 missiles had been built. Because the region was in part of Germany that was to become Russian territory after the war, American forces removed what they could: hundreds of trainloads of V-2s and their parts, which were then shipped off to the United States along with Germany's chief rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, and more than one hundred of his engineers. The V-2s were used in rocket tests in the States; meanwhile, von Braun and his colleagues set about to design a new breed of missile. Over the next few decades, their efforts, building on the design of the V-2, produced the Redstone, Jupiter, Jupiter-C, Pershing, and Saturn rockets (which launched the Apollo spacecraft and Skylab into orbit).
The V-bomb factory, two miles northwest of Nordhausen, was two miles in length, with two large tunnels approximately fifty feet in width and height, connected laterally by forty-eight smaller tunnels. From 1943 until 1945, 60,000 prisoners had toiled here in production of V-1 and V-2 bombs. Of these, 20,000 had died from various causes including starvation, fatigue and execution. The SS was in charge of the factory and the camp, with German criminals as strawbosses. Workers were executed at the slightest suggestion of sabotage. No workers had ever been allowed to leave the camp and when they became too weak to work, they were abandoned to die and their bodies burned at the crematorium within the grounds. Reports indicated that approximately one hundred bodies were cremated per day, and there were about thirty corpses piled on the ground awaiting such treatment when the American 104th "Timberwolf" Army Infantry Division arrived. These bodies showed many signs of beating, starvation and torture. There were several camps in the area (Mittelbau Dora and Nordhausen Concentration Camps) that fed prisoners into the V2 production facility as required, as well as concentration camps for politcal prisoners.
Google: ‘Latest News Syria: United Nations Human Rights Council’
U.N. rights team believes chemical weapons used in Syria | Reuters
2 days ago– GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations human rights investigators said on Tuesday … In their latest report, they said they had received allegations that Syrian … the U.N. commission of inquiry, told a news conference in Geneva.
UN rights team believes chemical weapons used in Syria
Reuters – 2 days ago
Report of Commission of Inquiry on Syria – A/HRC/23/58
4 June 2013 – English | Arabic (Advance Unedited Version)
‘Independent’ UN panel calls for diplomatic surge to end ‘daily reality’ of war crimes in Syria
UN News Centre - 2 days ago
With Syria engulfed in an escalating and increasingly brutal civil war, a panel of United Nations human rights experts today issued its latest …
Syria: Chemical weapons have been used by both sides, says UN …
http://www.independent.co.uk › News › World › Middle East
2 days ago – Human Rights Council says both sides are guilty of war crimes with reports of … who chairs the UN commission of inquiry, told a news conference in Geneva. … an embargo on the sale of munitions to Syria was lifted last week.
UN Human Rights Council: Interactive Dialogue with the …
2 days ago – Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned by the escalating level of violence in Syria. … Latest News …. the Commission of inquiry and call on the United Nations Security Council to refer the Syria situation to the International …
UN, France Allege Chemical Weapons Use in Syria
2 days ago – Findings of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry o… … Latest Newscast … of Inquiry on Syria for the United Nations Human Rights Council talks to … before a news conference on the presentation of their latest report at the U.N. …
US Army Chief Suggests Military Intervention in Syria Before End of …
May 8, 2013 – A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that only 10 per cent supported military intervention in Syria while 61 per cent opposed getting involved.
John McCain Urges US Military Intervention in Syria
1 day ago – Senator John McCain's backing of U.S. military intervention in Syria excuses war crimes and ignores history.
needed for Syria intervention - Yahoo! News
May 6, 2013 – News: Everyone seems to agree that the situation in Syria is ... with whether US intervention in Syria would be “legal” under the UN Charter ... If Mr. Obama and other international leaders pursue military intervention in Syria, .... Bashar Al-Assad Breaking News: Kerry: US, Allies Ready to Aid Syria Rebels ...
Photo: UN Chief Ban Ki-moon visits the Pentagon. It is a public secret that Ban Ki-moon, who has been posted twice to the Republic of Korea embassy in Washington, D.C. and served as Director-General for American Affairs in 1990–1992, is a very good personal friend of president Obama.
1) United Nations Human Rights Council: Lybia - March 1, 2011
'UN General Assembly Suspends Libya's Human Rights Council Membership'
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
The United States applauds the move by the UN General Assembly to suspend Libya’s membership rights in the Human Rights Council in Geneva. We continue to demand an immediate halt to the violence perpetrated by the Qadhafi government against its own citizens. The General Assembly today has made it clear that governments that turn their guns on their own people have no place on the Human Rights Council.
Today’s historic action is the first time that any country serving on the Human Rights Council, or the Commission before it, has ever had its membership suspended. The international community is speaking with one voice and our message is unmistakable: these violations of universal rights are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
Two years ago, the United States announced that we would seek to join the Human Rights Council with a commitment to reform the Council from within. The actions the Council has taken over the last few days, setting the stage for today’s decision, is the latest example that our engagement is paying dividends, even as we keep pressing for further reforms.
The United States will continue to work with the international community on additional steps to hold the Qadhafi government accountable, provide humanitarian assistance to those in need, and support the Libyan people as they pursue a transition to democracy.
2) United Nations Human Rights Council: Syria - June 5, 2013
'Russia: Use of UNHRC to Benefit Extremist Opposition Hinders Resolving Syrian Crisis'
A statement published on the Ministry's website on Wednesday said that the use of the UNHRC to benefit one side of the crisis in Syria, specifically the extremist opposition, does not help find a way out of the Syrian crisis.
The statement pointed out that the bias of the report submitted at the UNHRC was exploited by some countries' delegation to once again assign blame for what is happening in Syria to the Syrian government, all while neglecting the many crimes and human rights violation committed by armed terrorist groups.
The Foreign Ministry said that the experts who submitted the aforementioned reported didn't bother to listen to the victims and witnesses to violence perpetrated by extremists, although these experts admitted that the growing numbers of extremists among gunmen in Syria are committing summary executions, torture, abduction and employ children in aggressive actions.
The statement also noted that the committee in charge of the report once again decided not to include bombings committed by armed groups in Syrian cities in the list of terrorist acts; it even refused to describe them as terrorist acts!
The Ministry said that the atrocities committed by extremists are being condoned through remaining silent over them, especially rape and violence against women.
1) On November 15, 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for urging his cabinet to accept a U.S. proposal to extend a freeze on West Bank settlement building for 90 days. Under the plan, Washington would block UN resolutions critical of Israel, and supply Israel with fighter jets worth $3 billion. The US government also promised Israel that after the 90-day moratorium, they would not seek an extension, and settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (all of which is illegal under international law) could continue unabated.
2) In February 2011, more than 100 nations voted for a U.N. resolution that would have condemned illegal Israeli settlements and halted any new construction. The United States vetoed it.
3) On February 19, 2011, Israel said it was 'deeply grateful to the United States' after it vetoed a United Nations resolution put forward by the Palestinian leadership condemning Israeli settlement activity.
4) On Oct 27, 2011, Israeli jetfighters engaged in aerial bombing of the Palestinian city of Khan Yunes in the Gaza Strip.