Blacks accounted for 60% of nonviolent offenders serving federal life without parole sentences in federal prison. In state prison, blacks account for 68% of those imprisoned for life without parole. The ACLU documented these numbers and many power stories of injustice in A Living Death, a 240-page report released last year.

Hispanics and other minorities account for another 24% of nonviolent offenders doing life without parole in federal prison. The bulk of the 16% of whites doing life without parole are poor people convicted of dealing in a poor person’s drug, methamphetamine.

William Faulkner said it well: “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.”

Participating in the heavily regulated recreational drug business is the technical violation given for imprisoning 1,757 blacks and 624 Latinos until death in our federal prisons. But a decade or two in prison would accomplish a goal related to punishing any drug crime.

Life without parole sentences are about sending a message, not punishment, and that message is really about the imprisoners, not the imprisoned. “The Civil War wasn’t really about slavery” is a claim that is startlingly similar to the official claim that the drug war isn’t “really” about race and class. It’s about protecting our way of life, supporters say. And, indeed, it is, although in a way that can’t be confronted in polite company.

The Clemency Report is dedicated to reminding United States citizens that human beings deserve generosity and proportionality, not a life in prison, so long as they have not been convicted of a seriously violent crime. When you go to sleep at night, remember for a moment the name of one of these men or women serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses. 

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Clemency was designed to handle cases of disproportionate punishment. Last December, President Obama granted clemency to a man who received the same life without parole drug sentence as those shown above. His Bureau of Prisons locator reads differently than most.

Justice starts here for:

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