The 18 men

The 18 men

The Problem

Eighteen men are serving life sentences in Arkansas's prisons for nonviolent drug convictions

Currently, a person convicted of, for example, manufacturing two grams of methamphetamine may be sentenced to life imprisonment, which effectively means life without the possibility of parole under Arkansas law. Meanwhile, second-degree murder, human trafficking of an adult and first-degree sexual assault are all punishable by a maximum 30 years’ imprisonment, which means someone who knowingly kills another, enslaves an adult or has sex with ninth grader is entitled to a term-of-years sentence while these 18 men convicted of nonviolent drug offenses are condemned to die in prison.

 MR. NELSON WATSON, ONE OF THE 18 MEN

MR. NELSON WATSON, ONE OF THE 18 MEN

For example, 25 years ago, Mr. Nelson Watson was sentenced to life imprisonment for five counts of delivering cocaine and one count of possession with intent to deliver cocaine. Mr. Watson is now a wheel-chair-bound 80-year-old who has recently undergone hip surgery and is currently on retaining fluids. If Mr. Watson were re-sentenced to a term of years, he could spend his last days with his children or, at least, have a parole hearing at which it could be determined whether he should be released.

Possible Solutions

One potential means to make sentences like Mr. Watson’s non-life eligible would be amending a sentencing statute (Arkansas Code Annotate § 5-4-104) to add a section providing that people convicted of drug felonies shall not be sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Arkansas General Assembly could pass a bill retroactively making the 18 men's sentences non-life eligible and entitling these men to another sentencing hearing, at which they would be sentenced to a term of years. However, under this possible solution, a person convicted of a serious Class Y drug felony could still be sentenced to up to 40 years for a first offense or 60 years for a habitual offense. 

Ultimately, nobody should be subjected to the horrors of prison, which include compulsory labor, social/emotional isolation and high levels of communicable disease, for a drug offense. Instead, civic society, public servants, researchers, the business community and people directly impacted by incarceration should develop a collaborative process to address the conditions that produce drug addiction and dealing.

The $22,000+ spent annually incarcerating each incarcerated woman and man serving time for nonviolent drug offenses should, instead, be spent on intensive behavioral health and/or trauma-reduction therapy, housing assistance in high-opportunity neighborhoods and public works programs to improve the conditions in marginalized communities.

How to Win

The 18 men will die in prison without your help.

Seeds has created the AR18Release project to: 1) raise awareness about the 18 men sentenced to life imprisonment for nonviolent drug convictions; 2) strategize with various communities on how to obtain the 18 men's eventual release; and 3) train various communities on how to execute these strategies.

If you would like to help support AR18Release or participate in/organize a strategy session please contact Dawn Jeffrey at info@seedsofliberation.org or 1001 Wright Ave., Little Rock, Arkansas 72206. 

Please join the Facebook group AR18Release, and show your support for the 18 men by sharing the group's post and words of support.

Most importantly, raise awareness about the 18 men's plight in your communities and social circles. Stay tuned to learn more about the 18 men's childhoods, what sustains them in the present and their dreams for the future.