Stephanie George was a twenty seven year old woman, never charged, convicted, or even suspected of committing a violent crime... yet when she the left a Florida court room fifteen years ago, she did so after being given a life sentence. Her crime was that she was involved in a drug sales operation.
Previously Ms. George had been convicted of selling small amounts of drugs and was on probation when the police arrived at her home with a ladder and a search warrant. The police took the ladder to the attic entrance and found a lock-box containing cocaine. Ms. George's ex-boyfriend, she claims, hid the drugs in the attic without her knowledge... he then cooperated with the police and received a reduced sentence; she was given life imprisonment.
The judge in the case did not feel her crime warranted such a sentence, however the way the law is written, he had no choice. From Judge Roger Vinson to Ms. George at sentencing, "Your role has basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder but not actively involved in the drug dealing, so certainly in my judgment it does not warrant a life sentence..." Yet that is what she received.
There is now a movement across the country to allow trial judges more freedom to give sentences which are more appropriate to the crime instead of widespread mandatory sentences. The reasoning behind it is twofold; first, having non-violent offenders in prison may be a violation of the Eighth Amendment, and second, it is simply too expensive to hold such people in prison when they could be rehabilitated in outreach programs.
The State of California spends $50,000 per year on each inmate currently incarcerated in the state's correctional facilities... they spend less per student at state run colleges and universities... instead the colleges are forced to increase tuition for students.