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

by Incarcerated Flavors

Dear Friends,


While serious crime rates in the U.S. have been declining for the last 20 years, the number of prisoners serving life sentences has more than quadrupled since 1984. As documented in our new report, Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life Sentences in America, by senior research analyst Ashley Nellis, over 159,000 people were serving life sentences in 2012, with nearly 50,000 serving life without parole.
                                Key findings from the report include:
  • One of every nine individuals in prison is serving a life sentence.
  • The population of prisoners serving life without parole (LWOP) has risen more sharply than those with the possibility of parole: there has been a 22.2% increase in LWOP since just 2008.
  • Approximately 10,000 lifers have been convicted of nonviolent offenses.
  • Nearly half of lifers are African American and 1 in 6 are Latino. 
  • More than 10,000 life-sentenced inmates have been convicted of crimes that occurred before they turned 18 and nearly 1 in 4 of them were sentenced to LWOP.
  • More than 5,300 (3.4%) of the life-sentenced inmates are female.
In order to reshape our crime policies to facilitate rehabilation, promote public safety, and reduce the high cost of mass incarceration, the report recommends eliminating life without parole, increasing the use of executive clemency, preparing persons sentenced to life for release from prison, and restoring the role of parole in prisoner release.
                                I hope that the insights in Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life Sentences in America will be useful in your work. As always, we would welcome your comments and reactions to the issues raised in this report.



Marc Mauer