U.S.: Want Prison Reform? Start by Releasing Nonviolent Drug Offenders Serving Life Sentences
What do a former Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, an Illinois truck mechanic, and a Southern California teacher have in common? They are all serving life sentences in federal prisons for nonviolent marijuana offenses.
Most of the public remains unaware that right here, right now, in these United States, we have prisoners serving life or de facto life sentences for nonviolent cannabis offenses. For some, like 1986 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Randy Lanier and Chicago truck mechanic Craig Cesal, these were first offenses.
Lanier, Cesal, and others like Paul Free, Larry Duke and George Martorano, are part of an aging prison population who have been incarcerated for decades for victimless crimes involving a plant states are legalizing.
A new Change.org petition, penned by Beth Curtis of LifeForPot.com, whose brother John Knock is one of these prisoners, offers an easy way the President cold remedy the situation: Grant Mass Clemency to Nonviolent Drug Offenders Serving Life Sentences. The petition models its suggestion on historical mass clemencies like those granted by Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter to Selective Service Act violators during the Vietnam War. Systemic clemency has been used frequently throughout the history of our country and is Presidential tool and responsibility that is usually used to restore justice when retribution has caused a rift in the social fabric. The war on drugs is our contemporary example of this excess.
Author, cannabis reform activist, and petition campaign manager Cheri Sicard says Curtis’s simple common sense solution is something nearly everyone can agree on, “Young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, hardly anyone thinks it is a good idea to waste tax dollars locking nonviolent senior citizen marijuana offenders away for life. “
The petition leaves the details clemency to the President’s discretion but includes suggestions for reasonable guidelines, such as a group commutation for those who have served 10 years and/or reached the age of 60.
Curtis and Sicard debated the wisdom of including all nonviolent drug offenders serving life in the petition and ultimately opted to do so as the public is no longer complacent about the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and cocaine and the President has shown sympathy towards, and granted clemency for, some crack cocaine prisoners caught in in this sentencing gap. In these cases the petition simply suggests the President commute life sentences when time served equals the time of incarceration for same weight cocaine offenses.
The organizers, along with the families of those serving life sentences are hoping for a strong show of public support on this petition with the plans to use it bolster new clemency efforts currently being drafted.
Sicard adds, “It only makes logical sense to stop the cruel and unusual practice of incarcerating inmates for life for nonviolent, victimless crimes. This petition will spread awareness of an issue most American don’t even realize exists, as well as gather supporters to help in efforts to finally get these men released while they still have a few years left to spend with their loved ones.”
Graphic: Thom Hartmann