Life Sentenced Population Exceeds Entire Prison Population in 1970

beSpacific 2020-02-20

The Sentencing Project: “Nationwide there are more people serving life sentences today (206,000) than the entire prison population in 1970 (196,000), according to a new fact sheet released by The Sentencing Project’s Campaign to End Life Imprisonment. Starting in the 1970s, the United States’s prison population began its steady upward climb to the vastly overcrowded system we have today. While recent reforms have decreased the overall prison population by 0.5% between 2003 and 2016, there has been a 30% increase in life sentences during this period. The expansion of life imprisonment is a key component in the structure of mass incarceration. In 24 states, there are more people serving life sentences than the state’s entire prison population in 1970, found Senior Research Analyst Ashley Nellis. In an additional nine states, the life imprisonment total is within 100 people of those states’ 1970 prison population. In particular, Nevada and Utah have life-sentenced populations more than four times the states’ entire prison population in 1970. The next two most dramatic shifts are in Louisiana and Alaska, where the life-sentenced populations are more than double their overall prison populations in 1970. Life sentences have been shown to have little effect on crime rates since people “age out” of crime—meaning that we’re spending a fortune on geriatric care to keep people in prison who pose little threat to public safety. As states pass more reforms to address 40 years of prison expansion, it is clearly important to adopt sentencing reforms to dramatically reduce the scale of punishment for people serving life sentences.”