Record Number of Prisoners Serving Life Sentences

Friday, July 24, 2009

The national obsession with “Three Strikes” laws and other mandatory sentencing rules that began decades ago has produced today a record number of prisoners serving life sentences. This comes at a time when government budgets are squeezed more than ever because of the recession. According to a new report by The Sentencing Project, almost 10% of the inmate population, or more than 140,000 prisoners, in the United States are serving life for their crimes.

The rate is even higher in California, which has the most prisoners of any state (170,000). Currently, about 20% (or 34,164 inmates) are serving life sentences—triple from what it was in 1992. The high number of “lifers” is producing considerable strain on the state’s corrections budget, which just got slashed as part of Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s austere solution to the $26 billion budget deficit. As those serving life sentences get above 50 in age, they cost the state between $98,000 and $138,000 per inmate to care for, because of increasing health care needs.
The Sentencing Project’s study also reported that two-thirds of all prisoners in the U.S. serving life sentences are Latino or African American. In the state of New York, only 16.3% of prisoners serving life terms are white.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Number of Life Terms Hits Record (by Solomon Moore, New York Times)
No Exit: The Expanding Use of Life Sentences in America (by Ashley Nellis and Ryan S. King, The Sentencing Project) (PDF)


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