A man believed to be the longest-serving inmate on non-violent marijuana charges has been released from a Florida prison, and will vacation with the family for the first time in more than 31 years.
Richard DeLisi left a correctional facility in Palm Beach County this week “grateful to all who [had] been there, ”and expressing appreciation to criminal justice reform supporters and advocates who say the release of the now 71-year-old was long overdue.
“It was so unfair what they did to me”, DeLisi told the Florida ledger Newspaper. “I just hope I can help other people who are in the same situation.”
Along with his older brother, DeLisi was sentenced to 90 years in prison in 1989 after being convicted of trafficking more than 100 pounds of marijuana from Colombia, as well as conspiracy and racketeering charges.
Both brothers received three consecutive 30-year sentences, which far exceeded judicial guidelines for recommended sentences at the time. Criminal justice experts pointed to the sentencing as part of the ongoing “war on drugs” that saw incarceration rates rise dramatically for low-level drug offenders in the 1980s and 1990s.
While his brother eventually appealed and was released from prison in 2013, DeLisi’s appeal was rejected. He was released from prison this week before his scheduled June 2022 release.
In a statement, DeLisi said it felt “incredibly wonderful to know that [he] very soon I will be at home with family and loved ones ”.
However, those family members will not include your wife, parents, and child. All died in the 31 years since DeLisi’s sentence.
“I have missed so many important moments,” he said, noting that he was “excited that this dark chapter of [his] life is finally over ”and is now able to be reunited with her two surviving children and five grandchildren.
The Last Prisoner Project, which advocated for his release, is a nonprofit group calling for reforms in criminal justice, particularly for people serving long sentences for non-violent cannabis-related crimes.
Days before, the House of Representatives of EE. voted to decriminalize marijuana nationwide to “address the devastating injustices caused by the war on drugs.” Legal academics don’t expect the bill to pass if it is picked up by the current Republican-controlled Senate.
However, the momentum could change with an incoming Joe Biden administration that has not supported federal decriminalization while promising to address the racial and economic inequalities created from its criminalization.
Nearly one in five people in the US they are incarcerated for drug-related crimes, in accordance with the Penitentiary Policy Initiative. The United States maintains the the highest incarceration rate in the world.
While Americans have increasingly approved By legalizing marijuana, former users, traffickers and traffickers remain incarcerated, some serving decades-long sentences.
DeLisi told the Associated Press that he wants to “get the best out of every part of [his] time ”spent behind bars fighting for the release of prisoners like him. “The system must change,” he said, and promised to “try [his] the best thing is to be an activist ”.
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