Newsbrief: One in 11 US Prisoners Doing Life, Study Finds 5/21/04

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Nearly 128,000 people are serving life sentences in state and federal prisons in the United States, and more than one-quarter of them are doing life without parole. The number of people doing life sentences has increased a whopping 83% in the past decade, even as the violent crime rate dropped 35% during that same period.

"Tough on crime" sentencing policies are the main reason for the dramatic increase, said The Sentencing Project, the Washington, DC-based sentencing reform advocacy and research group that released the study. The group pointed specifically at mandatory minimum sentences and tougher parole and commutation policies.

The report studied prisoners who may end up serving life, such as those sentenced to 25-to-life under California's "three strikes" law, as well as those doing life without any possibility of parole. Among the former group, the average number of years spent behind bars has risen from 21.9 to 29.0 in the decade from 1992 to 2002, the study found. But as a group, the lifers showed much less propensity to re-offend, with only 20% being arrested again within three years of release, compared to 68% of the general inmate population.

Slightly more than 90% of lifers have been sentenced for violent crimes, 68% for murder, but drug offenders make up 4% of the lifer population, people doing sentences for economic crimes make up 3.9%, and a mysterious "other" constitutes 2% of lifers.

"The people serving life have committed serious offenses, but it doesn't mean that imposing life sentences across the board is always appropriate or the best crime control strategy," said Marc Mauer, assistant director of The Sentencing Project and coauthor of the study.

Read "The Meaning of 'Life:' Long Prison Sentences in Context" at http://www.sentencingproject.org/pdfs/lifers.pdf online.

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Issue #338, 5/21/04 Editorial: Benefit of the Doubt | Vermont Becomes Ninth State to Legalize Medical Marijuana – Other States See Progress and Setbacks | Not With a Bang but a Whimper: California Pain Doctor Frank Fisher Exonerated in Last Criminal Case | Needle Exchange in New Jersey? Atlantic City Says Yes, Attorney General Says No | Dope and Diplomacy in Dublin: European Union Conference Tries to Lay Groundwork for Continental Drug Strategy | Announcing: "The New Prohibition: Voices of Dissent Challenge the Drug War" – New Compendium by Sheriff Masters Features David Borden and Numerous Other Thinkers on Drug Policy | Newsbrief: New Jersey Student Sues Over Drug Tests, Expulsion | Newsbrief: Drug War Invades Ultimate Frisbee | Newsbrief: One in 11 US Prisoners Doing Life, Study Finds | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Newsbrief: Bill to Reform Harsh Tennessee Marijuana Sales Law Dies Lonely Death | Newsbrief: Afghan Government Concedes It Includes Traffickers | Newsbrief: Rural Maryland Cops Force Students to Disrobe During Drug Raid | Web Scan: Ron Paul, Mayor Campbell, Westword, Nature, ACLU-TX Task Force Report, New DPFMA Web Site | Job Opportunity – Research Assistant, Office of Legal Affairs, Drug Policy Alliance, Oakland, California | The Reformer's Calendar
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