Analysis Opinion

United States: surge in life sentences

Ashley Nellis, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Analyst at the Washington DC-based NGO, The Sentencing Project, which has been active in the struggle to reform American law and practice on life sentences.

ICPR and Prison Insider asked several experts worldwide to share their insights in the framework of the project Understanding and reducing the use of imprisonment in 10 countries. Read Ashley Nellis’s insights.

Despite such high-blown rhetoric, there is no evidence that sentencing Givens to 110 years in prison was likely to deter others, or keep the community safe

More people are sentenced to life in prison in America than there were people in prison serving any sentence in 1970

We know that life imprisonment does not make us safer

One in five Black men in prison is serving a life sentence and two thirds of all people serving life are people of color

There is a growing awareness that it is the ratcheting up of prison sentences, not crime trends, that fueled mass incarceration

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Ashley Nellis

The Sentencing Project

Ashley Nellis, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Analyst at the Washington DC-based NGO, The Sentencing Project, which has been active in the struggle to reform American law and practice on life sentences.

About the project

Understanding and reducing the use of imprisonment in ten countries

This comparative research and policy project is led by the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research (ICPR), based at Birkbeck, University of London. To understand the causes and consequences of over-incarceration worldwide, ICPR has worked with a large network of NGOs, academic researchers and practitioners spanning this diverse selection of countries. ICPR partnered with Prison Insider in the latter stages of the project to shed light on aspects of prisoners’ lived experience in custody before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project team collaborated to gather national experts’ insights, and to facilitate a continuing global conversation around the key research findings. The project focuses on five main themes that can be found in the drop-down menu.

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