A new report released by The Sentencing Project finds 140,610 individuals are now serving life sentences in state and federal prisons, 6,807 of whom were juveniles at the commission of the crime. In addition, 29% of persons serving life sentences (41,095) have no possibility of parole, and 1,755 were juveniles at the commission of the crime.
No Exit: The Expanding Use of Life Sentences in America represents the first nationwide collection of life sentences data documenting race, ethnicity and gender. The report’s findings reveal overwhelming racial and ethnic disparities in the allocation of life sentences: 66% of all persons sentenced to life are non-white, and 77% of juveniles serving life sentences are non-white.
The report notes that legislators have expanded the types of offenses that result in a life sentence and established a wide range of habitual offender laws that subject a growing proportion of defendants to potential life terms. The authors note how the politics of fear has largely fueled the increasing use of life without parole (“LWOP”) sentences. This is described as an increasing willingness to impose life sentences on juveniles, an increasing reluctance on the part of parole boards and governors to release parole-eligible life prisoners and how, as a consequence, the population of life prisoners is both growing and aging, with ever-increasing costs to society.
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