A new book titled "The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences" by Marc Mauer and Ashley Nellis was recently released. In the book the authors provide a litany of compelling reasons why the practice of sentencing prisoners to life in prison is misguided and inhumane.
Marc Mauer is the Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, a national organization based in Washington, DC, that promotes
Mauer and Nellis argue that there is no practical or moral justification for a sentence longer than twenty years. Harsher sentences have been shown to have little effect on crime rates, and a broad body of research demonstrates that people "age out" of crime, meaning that lawmakers are wastefully spending significant
They cite the 2017 Model Penal Code of The American Law Institute, a well-regarded, nonpartisan body of legal scholars, which concluded that "terms for single offenses in excess of 20 years are rarely justified on proportionality grounds, and are too long to serve most utilitarian purposes." Its standards are in alignment with the American Bar Association which has called for the length of sentences to be "no longer than needed to serve the purposes for which it was imposed."
According to Mauer and Nellis, "Lengthy prison terms lead to diminished returns for public safety and distort how criminal justice resources are allocated. ...They also deny the possibility of redemption and reconnection to the community for individuals who no longer resemble the much younger lawbreakers who committed a serious crime for which they are incarcerated."
The book features important profiles of redemption about the lives of people who endured years experiencing the horrors of languishing in prison, were eventually released, and went on to become contributing members of society. It is an important contrast to the steady stream of negative stories depicted in the media which attempt to paint all offenders with the broad brush of failure.
One of the men Mauer writes about in the book is Ahmad Rahman. Rahman was one of my first mentors I corresponded with in prison during and after his incarceration. After having his sentence commuted by the Governor and being released from prison he went on to earn his PhD in African-American and African Studies.
After earning his PhD Rahman later became a professor at the University of Toledo and University of Michigan-Dearborn, respectively. He would
Rahman's story is one among the many success stories of former prisoners who have returned to the community and did great work after serving decades of incarceration. Had he remained in prison for the remainder of his life the world would have been denied the benefit of receiving the gifts he had to offer.
Reviews of the book include:
I can think of no authors more qualified to weigh in on the complex impact of life sentences than Marc Mauer and Ashley Nellis. If ever there was a doubt that such sentences are deeply inhumane, one need only read their book. You will find yourself both horrified and deeply, irrevocably, moved." --Heather Ann Thompson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Blood in the Water"
"Sure to have a profound impact on legislators and everyday citizens across America. The Sentencing Project started working on criminal justice reform long before it became fashionable. Combining impeccable research with smart policy recommendations, their work continues to set the gold standard." --James Foreman, Jr., author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Locking Up Our Own"
"A blistering indictment of America's practice of sentencing people to die in prison that dares readers to change the way we think about public safety, redemption, and justice. Essential reading for anyone committed to restoring legitimacy to our institutions." --Vanita Gupta president and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
I highly recommend that anyone interested in learning more about the policy of sentencing people to life in prison read this book. It is well-sourced and demonstrates why medieval failed practices of the past are incapable of solving the complex carceral problems of today.
(Efren Paredes, Jr. is a Michigan prisoner who has been incarcerated 30 years since age fifteen. He is the subject of the new documentary film titled "Half Truths and Full Lies," a social justice advocate, blogger, father, and husband.)