Tadd Vassell was arrested at age 18 and later sentenced to die in prison for a non-violent drug crime.
He was the youngest and least culpable of 12 codefendants all of whom were 5-15 years his senior. In 1997, the law required a mandatory life sentence and the judge had no discretion. All of the other codefendants received 25 year terms or less and they have all been released with the exception of Tadd and the two ring leaders who will come home in 2013 and 2016.
Tadd Vassell’s mandatory life sentence is fundamentally unfair. Non-violent juveniles should not be permanently banished from our society for a first-time drug offense. In a historic ruling last year, the Supreme Court declared in Graham v. Florida: “The Constitution prohibits the imposition of a life sentence on a juvenile offender who did not commit homicide.” Less than one month after the Supreme Court’s Graham decision, on August 3, 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which was designed to reduce harsh federal drug sentences. Yet, Tadd Vassell is still sentenced to life in federal prison, even after the Supreme Court’s Graham decision and the Fair Sentencing Act. Federal courts have repeatedly refused to allow him any opportunity to benefit from positive changes in the law.
Justice has already been served. Even though he faces a mandatory life sentence and without any certainty that he will ever be released, Tadd Vassell has made exceptional strides to become a remarkable human being. He has completed many college courses and taken every educational program offered in the prison. He has made such awesome strides that he has been chosen to teach courses on life skills, self development and ironically, re-entry classes to prisoners about how to be productive members of society when they are released. Ironically and unfortunately, community reentry is not an opportunity Vassell shares with the prisoners he mentors. Recently, he was hand selected by the USP Hazelton Warden to participate in the Inside Out program, a collaboration with the prison and West Virginia University to create initiatives to improve prison conditions and develop programs for reentry.
Permanent banishment is not the answer for nonviolent juvenile first offenders. Tadd Vassell is the face of a flawed “War on Drugs” and the excessively harsh juvenile sentencing practices that were a collateral consequence of that war. He is also a face of maturity and rehabilitation. It costs the federal government $28, 800 per year to keep Tadd Vassell in prison. Taxpayers will have spent millions of dollars to keep this juvenile, nonviolent first offender locked up. Tadd Vassell’s case boils down to a single, fundamental question: Should a 18-year-old kid be permanently banished from society for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense?
If you believe the answer to this question is NO, then the Justice For Vassell Coalition wants to hear from you. You can join the fight for JUSTICE by taking 30 seconds to sign our petition for a pardon. Click the link below: