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Ashley Nellis, Ph.D.
Senior Research Analyst

Ashley Nellis, Ph.D. has an academic and professional background in analyzing criminal justice policies and practices, racial disparities, juvenile justice systems, and long-term imprisonment. Her documentation of the prevalence of life imprisonment has served as a national resource for academics, advocates, policymakers, reporters, and incarcerated persons. She is the coauthor with Marc Mauer of The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences (The New Press, 2018) which has received praise from the Los Angeles Review of Books, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly, and has been featured on National Public Radio. Dr. Nellis is also the author of A Return to Justice: Rethinking our Approach to Juveniles in the System (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015) which chronicles America’s historical treatment of youth in the justice system and the need to reorient juvenile justice practices toward the original vision. She has presented her work at a wide range of academic and policy convenings, and is frequently interviewed by a range of news media. Dr. Nellis received her Ph.D. in Justice, Law and Society from American University’s School of Public Affairs.

Written By Ashley Nellis, Ph.D.
May 03, 2017

Still Life: America’s Increasing Use of Life and Long-Term Sentences

Amid historically low crime rates, a record 206,268 people are serving life or virtual life sentences—one of every seven people in prison.
June 14, 2016

The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons

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.
December 14, 2015

A Return to Justice: Rethinking our Approach to Juveniles in the System

Authored by Ashley Nellis, Senior Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project, A Return to Justice examines how the original aim of the juvenile justice system — to consider children’s unique status and amenability for reform — has eroded, with increasing reliance on court systems that do not account for their young age.
September 18, 2013

Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life Sentences in America

After a decades-long surge, modest declines in prison populations are declining (though modestly) and various state legislatures have reformed sentencing laws that reduce the incarceration of people convicted of certain offenses.
January 30, 2013

Tinkering with Life: A Look at the Inappropriateness of Life Without Parole as an Alternative to the Death Penalty

The abolition of the death penalty in several states in recent years allows deliberations about punishment to expand and to consider the appropriateness of other sanctions. This article in the University of Miami Law Review explores the use of life without parole, now standing at more than 41,000 sentences nationwide and representing a 300% increase over the past two decades.
March 01, 2012

The Lives of Juvenile Lifers: Findings from a National Survey

This report investigates the life experiences of individuals serving sentences of life without parole for offenses committed as juveniles and presents findings from the first-ever national survey of this population. It provides a comprehensive look that offers new perspectives on people who committed crimes before the age of 18.
August 17, 2011

Addressing the Collateral Consequences of Convictions for Young Offenders

This article, published by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, explores areas in need of attention and reform so that young people who have been adjudicated delinquent or convicted of a crime are not punished subsequently by other systems they encounter.
September 22, 2010

Throwing Away the Key: The Expansion of Life Without Parole Sentences in the United States

This article in the Federal Sentencing Reporter examines the growing use of life without parole (LWOP) sentences in the United States.
July 22, 2009

No Exit: The Expanding Use of Life Sentences in America

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.
January 30, 2009

Reducing Jail Populations by Addressing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System

Racial disparity is a large driver in the unprecedented growth in our criminal justice population, and working toward reducing racial and ethnic disparity in the criminal justice system is a necessary component of the larger reentry conversation.