Jeff Mizanskey, Missouri Man Serving Life in Prison for Marijuana, to be Released Sept. 1
A Missouri man who has served 21 years of a life-without-parole prison sentence for nonviolent marijuana offenses will be a free man come September 1.
Jeff Mizanskey received a mandatory life prison sentence without the possibility of parole under Missouri’s “three strikes” law. According to a Change.com petition for Mizanskey’s release, which collected nearly 400,000 signatures, the 62-year-old grandfather’s first offense occurred in 1984 when he sold an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana to an undercover informant. The next day, police found half a pound (0.23 kg) of pot in his home. Mizanskey’s second offense occurred in 1991, when he was caught with two ounces of marijuana. His third and final strike happened two years later when he drove a friend to a weed deal that turned out to be a police sting operation.
“My dad is, and always has been, a good man,” the petition, launched by Chris Mizanskey, said. “He taught my brother and I all about construction and a good work ethic. He has never been violent and he is a model prisoner. And over the 20 years he has been in that little cell, he has watched as violent criminals, rapists, and murderers have ‘paid their debts’ and left—sometimes just to return a few months later.”
“My father is 61 years old, and has been in prison since he was 41. His parents—my grandparents—have since passed,” the petition continued. “While my dad has been trapped behind bars, generations of kids and grandkids have been born into our family who have never even met the man. The State of Missouri spends roughly $22,000/year to keep him locked up. Meanwhile all my dad wants to do is be a productive part of society, work and pay taxes, be with his family.”
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, commuted Mizanskey’s sentence in May, along with the sentences of four other non-violent offenders.
“The executive power to grant clemency is one I take with a great deal of consideration and seriousness,” Nixon wrote in a statement explaining his action. “In each of the cases where I have granted a pardon, the individual has demonstrated the ability and willingness to turn his or her life around and become a contributing member of society. In the case of the commutation, my action provides Jeff Mizanskey with the opportunity to demonstrate that he deserves parole.”
ABC 17 News reports Dan Viets, Mizanskey’s attorney, has confirmed his client will be released on September 1.
Life prison sentences for nonviolent marijuana sentences are not uncommon in the United States, despite the growing acceptance of cannabis use for both medical and recreational purposes. According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), nearly 3,300 people are serving life sentences for nonviolent crimes of all types across the nation.
“For 3,278 people, it was nonviolent offenses like stealing a $159 jacket or serving as a middleman in the sale of $10 of marijuana,” the ACLU report, “A Living Death: Life without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses,” states. “An estimated 65 percent of them are black. Many of them were struggling with mental illness, drug dependency or financial desperation when they committed their crimes. None of them will ever come home to their parents and children. And taxpayers are spending billions to keep them behind bars.”
President Barack Obama recently commuted the sentences of 46 individuals imprisoned in federal lockups for nonviolent drug offenses, part of his administration’s efforts to address the mass incarceration of mostly poor, mostly minority Americans. In a video announcement explaining the move, Obama said the dozens of pardoned prisoners had been given “unduly harsh sentences” that “didn’t fit their crimes.”
“These men and women were not hardened criminals but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years. Fourteen of them had been sentenced to life for nonviolent drug offenses,” the president said, adding that nearly all of the freed inmates would have already served out the length of their prison terms if they had been sentenced today. Obama said the commutations are part of a wider push to restore a public sense of fairness in what he called a “nation of second chances.” The move is also aimed at reducing operating costs and overcrowding in federal prisons.
But Americans are still being sentenced to life for nonviolent marijuana offenses. Earlier this year, Fate Vincent Winslow, a hungry and homeless Louisiana man, was sentenced to life in prison without parole, with hard labor, after being entrapped into selling $20 worth of weed to an undercover officer.
Meanwhile, Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, DC have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, while many other states have legalized the plant for medical purposes, for which it has been used for thousands of years.