Life in Prison for Shoplifting

by Vins
Published: Updated:


There are currently 3,281 prisoners in the US serving a life sentence—with no chance of parole—for minor, non-violent crimes, according to a November 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Louisiana, one of nine states where inmates currently serve life sentences for non-violent crimes, has the nation’s strictest three-strike law, which states that after three offenses the guilty person is imprisoned for life without parole.

As Ed Pilkington reports in The Guardian, the ACLU study documents “thousands of lives ruined and families destroyed” by this practice. Among those is Timothy Jackson, now 53, who in 1996 was caught stealing a jacket from a New Orleans department store.  “It has been very hard for me,” Jackson wrote the ACLU. “I know that for my crime I had to do some time, but a life sentence for a jacket valued at $159.”

The ACLU study reports that keeping these prisoners locked up for life costs taxpayers around $1.8 billion annually. The study states that the US is “virtually alone in its willingness to sentence non-violent offenders to die behind bars.” Life without parole for non-violent sentences has been ruled a violation of human rights by the European Court of Human Rights.


Ed Pilkington, “More Than 3000 U.S. Prisoners Locked Up for Life Without Parole for Non-Violent Crimes,” The Guardian, November 13, 2013,

“A Living Death: Life without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses,” American Civil Liberties Union, November 2013,

Jessica M. Pasco, “Three Strikes, He’s Out,” Good Times (Santa Cruz, CA), November 6, 2013,

Student Researchers: Pietro Pizzani and Mia Hulbert (Indian River State College)

Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)