The incalculable cost of mass incarceration /Non-Violent Offenders cost $1.7B/yr
As a college student in Baton Rouge, La., Clarence Aaron played football, worked summers as a longshoreman and volunteered in his community. Like many college students, he eventually did something very foolish. For Aaron, it involved drugs: He introduced a friend to a cocaine dealer and played a minor role in two drug deals, one of which did not even go through.
For that mistake, he will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
He is not alone. Nathan Pettus stole three belts from a department store. Damon Caliste stole digital cameras from Wal-Mart. Alexander Surry was in possession of a single crack rock. Leopoldo Hernandez-Miranda was convicted nearly 20 years ago of marijuana possession with intent to distribute; he is now 74 years old. Timothy Tyler mailed small amounts of LSD to an undercover agent he thought was a fellow Grateful Dead fan.
All of them are serving sentences of life without parole, or LWOP. They and other nonviolent LWOP prisoners are costing U.S. taxpayers over $1.7 billion dollars more than if LWOP were not a sentencing option, according to a report (PDF) released this month by the American Civil Liberties Union. And much of that money is going to a slew of private companies that profit from mass incarceration.