Long Lifers

Statewide Lifers and Long-Term Offender Program
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A comparative examination of prison misconduct rates among lifewithout-parole and other long-term high-security inmates. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 33 6 , ; Cunningham, M. An actuarial model for assessment of prison violence risk among maximum security inmates.

Assessment 12 , ; Weisberg, R. Mukamal, D. Life in limbo: An examination of parole releases for prisoners serving life sentences with the possibility of parole in California. Research on people sentenced to life who exit prison finds remarkably low recidivism rates among them. State that life sentences handed down before violated due process protections due to misleading jury instructions.

As a result, more than lifers have been released, and not a single one had been convicted of a new felony as of From a life term to life on the outside: When aging felons are freed. Sixty-one-year-old Alva Polke is serving a virtual life sentence in Georgia. He has been incarcerated for 18 years and has not had a disciplinary infraction in 14 years.

Polke currently serves as a mentor to other prisoners and has earned several certificates for in-prison accomplishments, including completion of a course on reentry. He has maintained close ties with his family through his incarceration. Attorneys for Polke have noted that his sentence exceeds the maximum allowable punishment for certain homicides, sex offenses, and other violent crimes. This report makes clear that life sentences are a growing portion of the prison population. In more than , prisoners were serving some form of a life sentence, representing one of every seven Despite the pursuit of necessary criminal justice reforms at the margins of the system, reforms to the laws and practices that perpetuate life sentences have been rare, and the focus has been too narrow to fully challenge mass incarceration.

Growing support for decarceration and proposals for sentencing reforms for low-level offenses are frequently paired with the preservation of harsh penalties for serious and violent crimes. This strategy has been pursued without consideration of its impact on the exact problem that policymakers are attempting to fix: a bloated and expensive prison population that far surpasses that of any other nation in the world. These policy approaches are likely to disappoint lawmakers who expect considerable savings generated from reform.

A partial cause of the eventual doubling of expenses as prisoners age is the heavy toll that prison itself has on human health. People in prison experience higher rates of both chronic and infectious diseases as compared to the general population. Internationally, human rights concerns surrounding life sentences are evident.

Consider the case of Vinter and Others v.

200 elderly lifers got out of prison en masse. Here’s what happened next.

The United Kingdom , where the imposition of three life sentences triggered concerns about the practice. The cases were reviewed for possible international human rights violations 73 Such as Article 3 in the European Convention on Human Rights. A total of 49 people were serving life sentences at the time and were ordered to receive modified sentences. Notably, at the time of the ruling the United States had times more people serving such sentences.

Around the world an estimated , individuals are serving life sentences as of With the United States comprising 30 percent of the world total, this means that nearly one in three life-sentenced prisoners worldwide is a U. Life imprisonment worldwide. One approach to limiting life sentences is to adapt the recent policy shifts in the juvenile arena for adults. Graham v.

Florida ruled that LWOP sentences were disproportionate when applied to nonhomicide crimes. Miller v. Alabama ruled that juveniles could not receive LWOP for a homicide conviction in states that apply the sentence mandatorily. If this same judgment was applied to all prisoners serving mandatory LWOP for first-degree murder, 20, people, or 38 percent of the LWOP population, could potentially earn a sentence review. This would not necessarily lead to a release of any given prisoner, but would allow for a sentence review when applied retroactively.

Legal scholars are generally not optimistic about the successful extension of Graham , Miller , and Montgomery to adults through the courts. Alabama : What it is, what it may be, and what it is not. Missouri Law Review 78 4 , Opening a window or building a wall? The effect of eighth amendment death penalty law and advocacy on criminal justice more broadly. Journal of Constitutional Law, 11 1 , — Alabama , S. Simmons , U. Graham called for a review mechanism that is problematic on its own. In a recent report by The Sentencing Project, we documented a series of problems with parole, including long wait times, the politicization of the parole process, gubernatorial overreach in the decision to grant parole, an absence of the presumption of release at parole hearings, and limited rights and protections afforded to prisoners appearing before the parole board.

The severity of the crime is a prime factor in the original sentencing decision, but many parole boards either through policy or practice, take it upon themselves to incorporate the severity of the crime into the decision to grant or deny parole, a practice which amounts to relitigating the case. Improving parole release. Federal Sentencing Reporter 28 2: Most parole systems rely heavily on the crime of conviction in deliberating the parole decision, which places people serving an indeterminate life sentence at a distinct disadvantage due to the severity of the crime in many cases.

Research suggests that those convicted of violent crimes are less likely to be granted parole than those convicted of other offenses despite their assessed risk to public safety. Are limiting enactments effective? An experimental test of decision making in a presumptive parole state. Journal of Criminal Justice, 27 4 , ; Tewksbury, R.

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Predicting the outcome of parole hearings. Corrections Today , ; Huebner, B. The role of race and ethnicity in parole decisions. Criminology, 46 4 , In a study of parole decisions in New Jersey, the authors found that crime of conviction was the most influential factor in parole decisions. This result is surprising considering that under the New Jersey Parole Act of , crime of conviction was identified as a factor that should not influence parole decision-making.

Journal of Criminal Justice, 27 4 , Second, time served prior to appearing before a parole board plays a significant role in decision-making which, like crime of conviction, disproportionately impacts life-sentenced individuals. A punitive measure enacted in many states has been to extend the initial wait time before parole appearance and the wait time between parole hearings.

A prisoner who historically served 10 years until his or her first parole hearing may wait 20 years today. Two final shortcomings of many parole systems are the lack of experience and lack of distance from political influence that is required of its members. A recent comprehensive review of parole systems in the United States concluded that parole boards should be reconstructed to require a degree of expertise in criminal justice fields, advanced education degrees, and independence from political influence.

A New York Times expose of the New York parole process revealed only cursory reviews of prisoner files before a parole hearing and fewer than 20 minutes spent in any given hearing. Improvements in the structure and composition of the process can begin to move eligible life-sentenced prisoners through the system, releasing those who show they are qualified for freedom and holding back those who require more time in prison before they are ready.

Clemency is one meaningful way to adjust prison sentences mid-course. A power reserved for the president and state governors, clemency ensures a method of checks and balances on the other branches of government. In any prison sentence, the executive reserves the power to correct or mitigate the effects of an overly harsh law or judicial decision. Over the past half century, its use has become increasingly scrutinized and a result is that governors are increasingly reluctant to use this authority.

In Graham v. Florida , Justice Kennedy acknowledged the lack of dependability on clemency, noting that it fails as a reliable tool to mitigate the harshness of a sentence because it is used only in exceptional cases. The recent use of clemency at the federal level can serve as an example for state-level clemencies, which have declined considerably over the past several decades. Caught: The prison state and the lockdown of American politics. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Seeds, C.

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New Haven: Yale Law School. For most of the 20th century, life-sentenced prisoners in the federal system were eligible for parole after 15 years; this was reduced to 10 years in Washington, DC: U. Department of Justice. Beginning in , however, parole was abolished and all prospective life sentences were ineligible for parole. President Barack Obama granted an unprecedented number of clemencies to federal prisoners, an act that is unusual both for any modern president or governor.

By the time he left office, Obama had commuted 1, federal sentences, one third of which were life sentences for nonviolent crimes. In the current political environment, these policies have been proposed and received bipartisan support but not yet enacted. He eventually did receive clemency and has been free since July of In describing his experience of life in prison, he makes the following observation: If you leave us in prison…in there [for] too long, we can become rotten.

And in the process of them rotting away, society loses out on the gifts that we have to give them.

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Clemency recipient Norman Brown. A second method for mid-course review has been proposed by the American Law Institute ALI , a nonpartisan body of legal scholars who make recommendations for model penal codes. Improving parole release in America. The idea behind the second look provision is that not only can the individual change, but society can change as well.

Such a mechanism would help to allay the concerns of judges whose hands are tied by mandatory minimum sentences. Constitution…He was barely 15 when he committed the crime; he is emotionally and psychologically immature; he is learning disabled and functioned for several years below his peers; he has strong family support; he had never before been in any kind of legal trouble; and the evidence in support of his motion [to be transferred to the juvenile court] was overwhelming and essentially unrebutted…Sentencing him to life without parole is quite simply hideous and a travesty of justice.

Oklahoma , F , Northwestern University philosophy professor Jennifer Lackey teaches life-sentenced prisoners in Illinois. Over her years of teaching she has come to know that prisoners are not the only ones who change in remarkable ways. Victims and their families can come to see the prisoner as worthy of forgiveness and of a second chance.

The irrationality of life sentences. Life sentences are at an all-time high, with , people serving life with or without parole sentences nationwide. If we include those sentenced to de facto life terms of 50 years or more before parole, this brings the total to ,, or In , one in seven prisoners was serving a life or virtual life prison sentence. The increased prevalence of life sentences stands at odds with attempts to scale back mass incarceration.

The massive use of incarceration has come under scrutiny over the past decade as unlikely allies have joined to call for reforms on both fiscal and moral grounds. The shifting climate for criminal justice reform has been encouraging, with bipartisan support for long-recommended revisions to sentencing laws at the federal and state level.

Opportunities to further shift the direction of our criminal justice system must be seized by advocates to incorporate reform for life sentences in order to dismantle the uniquely American structure of mass incarceration. Scholars provide empirical evidence that shows diminishing public safety benefits associated with incarceration beyond a certain point. Some also reason that the expansive and somewhat arbitrary use of imprisonment weakens its general deterrence value.

San Francisco. These are among the factors that have brought the issue of mass incarceration to the center of criminal justice reform debates in a way not previously seen, arguing that it is a system that is both wasteful and unjust. Extreme prison sentences: Legal and normative consequences. These same concerns arise in lifelong imprisonment. The broad use of long-term and life sentences for nonhomicide crimes despite claims that these sentences are reserved for the worst of the worst is troubling; more than 17, lifers have been convicted of nonviolent crimes, and nearly 12, people serving life sentences were juveniles at the time of their crime.

Disproportionate racial and ethnic composition is another worrying feature of this population, with one in five black prisoners serving a life sentence. Persistent racial disparities are harmful on their own but also serve to delegitimize the system more broadly. Lifelong imprisonment is not the best course of action for most people for the reasons outlined above, nor is it a valuable outcome for society. Not just kid stuff? Extending Graham and Miller to adults. Missouri Law Review, 78 4 , The data in this report come directly from the state and federal departments of corrections.

We first contacted research divisions within the state and federal departments of corrections in January requesting the total number of people in prison as well as those serving life with parole, life without parole, and sentences of 50 years or more before release on the most recent date available.

The most common date provided was the date of the query. Within each of these three groups of prisoners LWP, LWOP, and virtual life , we also requested breakdowns by race, ethnicity, gender, juvenile status, and crime of conviction. A complete copy of the survey that jurisdictions received is provided in Appendix B. Follow-up emails and phone calls were made until November for reminders of our request or for clarification on data submitted. States were invited to review their submission from and adjust their reported figures for that year if needed. In two states, California and New Jersey, we were required to provide full research proposals as well as to submit our survey to an independent Institutional Review Board for approval before gaining access to the requested data.

We were approved in both instances. In total, we received data from all states and the federal Bureau of Prisons, with the exception of the state of Virginia. In specific, we received data on new life sentences added for each year between and The data from the Criminal Sentencing Commission does not include capital offenses, which are punishable by death or life in prison.

Richmond: Virginia Parole Reform Commission. Though the mention of virtual life or de facto life sentences has become a more frequent part of scholarly and policy discussions about life in prison generally, the term of years that should amount to virtual life is not yet settled. Criminologist Doris Schartmueller has defined virtual life sentences as those exceeding 35 years. See: Schartmueller, D. Scholar Jessica Henry has written extensively on the need to incorporate de facto life sentences into the broader conversation about life sentences overall.

In her comments she notes that there is difficulty in setting a term of years to define virtual life since the age of the individual at the time of prison admission is a critical component of the calculation. Death in prison sentences: Overutilized and underscrutinized.

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Ogletree, C. The courts have been even more unclear on where to draw the line. We selected 50 years as a conservative estimate of virtual life based on the following rationale: in , the life expectancy of a year-old male the typical age someone entering prison for a long-term or life sentence was about 40 additional years.

Actuarial life table. This suggests that to survive a lengthy sentence, one must be released before the age of Add to this the increased probability of a premature death for those who are incarcerated, 98 Patterson, E. Incarcerating death: Mortality in U. Demography, 47 3 , Click here to view the survey instrument. Schartmueller, D. The law requires that persons convicted of Class A felonies Class A felonies include murder and first degree kidnapping, rape, robbery, burglary, and arson.

The number of people serving life sentences in U. Nearly , people are serving a life sentence — one of every nine people in prison. Incorporating this category of life sentence, the total population serving a life or virtual life sentence reached , in This represents A mix of factors has led to the broad use of life sentences in the United States, placing it in stark contrast to practices in other nations. United Kingdom , App nos. Key Findings As of , there were , people serving life sentences, or one of every nine people in prison.

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But it was a trauma support group that helped him deal with an unresolved part of his past that he believes was the seed of his violent behavior that sent him to prison. Judge rejects class action in no-mattress lawsuit from Detroit police arrestees. I do a lot of these on the road as part of recognizing the value of philosophy as a public practice. Foster, Johanna E. These limitations may impact the ability of students to meet certain degree requirements and may even impact the overall program choices about which majors and concentrations may be implemented in the facility Foster and Sandford, Not everyone who is elderly in prison is serving LWOP, but many are.

The pool of people serving life sentences has more than quadrupled since There are 44, people serving prison sentences that are 50 years or longer. In Indiana, Louisiana, and Montana, more than 11 percent of the prison population is serving a de facto life sentence. Nearly 12, people have been sentenced to life or virtual life for crimes committed as juveniles; of these over 2, were sentenced to life without parole. Alabama , and Montgomery v. The United States incarcerates people for life at a rate of 50 per ,, roughly equivalent to the entire incarceration rates of the Scandinavian nations of Denmark, Finland, and Sweden.

No way out? Life sentences and the politics of penal reform. Sarat Eds. Overview Calls for reform to the criminal justice system have been made at the state and federal level in recent years and policy changes have been adopted in many jurisdictions.

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Life by the Numbers Overall, , people are serving life or virtual life sentences and one quarter of them will never have an opportunity for parole. Table 1. Figure 1. Growth of Life Sentences, Crime is also at historic lows. Figure 2. Comparison of Murder Rate and Life Sentences, Note: Blue bars on Figure 2 and Figure 3 reflect years in which nationwide data were obtained from departments of corrections; striped bars represent an average annual growth projection between these years.

Life with Parole Nearly all states allow or mandate the use of life with parole. Life without Parole Life-without-parole-sentences eliminate the possibility of release from prison except in the rare case of a clemency or commutation by the executive branch. Virtual Life As previously noted, this report provides the first-ever census of virtual or de facto life sentences, a third category of life sentence which refers to a term of imprisonment that a person is unlikely to survive if carried out in full.

Table 2. Table 3. Figure 5. Gender Nationwide, 6, women are serving life or virtual life sentences.

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Race and Ethnicity Racial and ethnic disparities are a persistent feature of prisons. Table 4. Figure 6. Juveniles Serving Life With Parole and Virtual Life Sentences Aside from the 2, individuals who are the subject of recent court rulings, departments of corrections report an additional 7, parole-eligible life-sentenced prisoners whose crimes occurred before age Table 5.

Discussion More than , people were serving life or virtual life prison sentences as of , amounting to Long-Term Trends: As noted in this report, U. Figure 7. Increase in Life with Parole and Life Without Parole Sentences, Not all states are equally responsible for the rise, though all states grew their life-sentenced population to some extent. Recent Trends: Looking only at the most recent period of growth, we see that nearly 3, more individuals are serving life sentences nationwide in compared to , reflecting a 2. Table 6. Table 7.

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Table 8. Figure 8. Drivers of Life Sentences A variety of factors other than crime trends explain the continued nationwide increase in life sentences. Lasting Politics and Policy from the Tough on Crime Era Statutory changes over the past three decades have extended prison sentences to include or mandate life in prison for certain crimes.

Figure 9. Utilize Momentum from the Juvenile Rulings One approach to limiting life sentences is to adapt the recent policy shifts in the juvenile arena for adults. Authorize Mid-Course Adjustments Clemency is one meaningful way to adjust prison sentences mid-course. Life sentences have become a lot longer with prisoners now spending more than 20 years behind bars before release. Lifers served on average less than eight years between and - but their time behind bars has now tripled to an average of 22 years. The latest lifer is John Tighe of Lavallyroe, Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, who on Friday was given a life sentence after being found guilty of murdering his six-month-old son in Co Mayo, almost five years ago.

He can expect to spend at least two decades behind bars. The tougher approach to prisoners serving life has been revealed by law lecturer Diarmuid Griffin. His findings will surprise those who mistakenly believe that life sentences are considerably shorter than they are in practice. In the decade up to , the average time served by life sentence prisoners was seven-and-a-half years, he said. This almost doubled to 14 years between and And between and , the average life sentence rose to 22 years.

Latest figures showed the numbers of prisoners serving life sentences dramatically increased from in to at present, consisting of 10 women and men. In the 15 years up to , some 61 life sentence prisoners were released on parole, known as "full temporary release". In the same period, 18 had their freedom revoked and were brought back to prison. He outlined the pressures on politicians and parole boards and debunked the popular misconception about 'short' life sentences.

No prisoner can be released from a life sentence without the approval of the Minister for Justice. Fear of public criticism has resulted in politicians being reluctant to approve the release of high-profile killers, he said. He cited the case of double killer Malcolm MacArthur. Jailed in , MacArthur was recommended for release after 22 years, but remained in jail for 30 years before his release in by then Minister Alan Shatter.

Dr Griffin said his research identified "the need for independence from politics" has been a key issue. Time Traveler for lifer The first known use of lifer was in See more words from the same year. More Definitions for lifer. English Language Learners Definition of lifer. US : a person who spends an entire career in the same job. Comments on lifer What made you want to look up lifer? Get Word of the Day daily email! Test Your Vocabulary.

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