Skip to main content
Publications

No Exit: The Expanding Use of Life Sentences in America

July 22, 2009
Ashley Nellis, Ph.D. and Ryan King
A record 140,610 individuals are now serving life sentences in state and federal prisons, 6,807 of whom were juveniles at the time of the crime.  In addition, 29% of individuals currently serving a life sentence have no possibility of parole, and 1,755 were juveniles at the time of the crime.

There are more than 2.3 million people incarcerated in prisons or jails throughout the United States.

This figure that has been growing steadily since 1972 and represents a 600% increase over this period. The United States has achieved the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of incarceration in the world by enacting three decades of “tough on crime” policies that have made little impact on crime but have had profound consequences for American society.

These policies have been wide-ranging and include such features as an increased emphasis on drug enforcement, determinate sentences, and most significantly, a vastly expanded use of imprisonment. Simultaneously, there has been a diminishing of the value placed on the principle of rehabilitation that originally guided the nation’s correctional philosophy.

This report finds a record 140,610 individuals are now serving life sentences in state and federal prisons, 6,807 of whom were juveniles at the time of the crime.  In addition, 29% of persons serving a life sentence (41,095) have no possibility of parole, and 1,755 were juveniles at the time of the crime.

To read the report, download the PDF below.

 
Related Posts
publications
June 14, 2016

The Color of Justice 2016 Report

African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at more than five times the rate of whites, and at least ten times the rate in five states. This report documents the rates of incarceration for whites, African Americans, and Hispanics in each state, identifies three contributors to racial and ethnic disparities in imprisonment, and provides recommendations for reform.
publications
October 07, 2021

Sign-on Letter: Pass the Redefinition of Child Amendment Act of 2021

Justice organizations urge the Mayor and the Council of the District of Columbia to pass Bill 4-0338, the Redefinition of Child Amendment Act of 2021 as a necessary, common sense approach to juvenile justice reform that will create better outcomes for youth and communities, will treat children as children, and will make significant steps forward in advancing racial equity.