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Washington Post: Reduce prison populations by reducing life sentences

March 25, 2019
Criminologist Daniel S. Nagin highlights The Sentencing Project's proposal to end life imprisonment.

In a guest post for the Washington Post, Daniel S. Nagin, professor of public policy and statistics at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, highlighted The Sentencing Project’s Marc Mauer and Ashley Nellis’s “bold recommendation” of abolishing life sentences in order to address mass incarceration:

Research demonstrates that increases in already long prison sentences, say from 20 years to life, do not have material deterrent effects on crime. There is no good reason for believing that life sentences are a better deterrent than the Mauer-Nellis recommendation of a maximum sentence of 20 years.

The political and social causes for mass incarceration are complex, but the mechanism is easily described — the system sends more people to prison for longer periods of time. One unintended consequence of this is that our prisons have become old-age homes. Between 1993 and 2016, the percentage of U.S. prisoners ages 50 or older grew from 5 percent to 20 percent, and the number of those ages 40 years or older more than doubled, from 17.9 percent to 40.4 percent.

From a public safety perspective, this makes no sense. Decades of research by criminologists demonstrate that nature’s best cure for crime is aging — crime is a young man’s game.

You can read Professor Nagin’s full article here.

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