Still Life: America's Increasing of Life and Long-Term Sentences
"The number of people serving life sentences in U.S. prisons is at an all-time high. Nearly 162,000 people are serving a life sentence - one of every nine people in prison. An additional 44,311 individuals are serving 'virtual life' sentences of 50 years or more. Incorporating this category of life sentence, the total population serving a life or virtual life sentence reached 206,269 in 2016.
This represents 13.9 percent of the prison population, or one of every seven people behind bars. 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.
Every state and the federal government allow prison sentences that are so long that death in prison is presumed. This report provides a comprehensive profile of those living in this deep end of the justice system. Our analysis provides current figures on people serving life with parole (LWP) and life without parole (LWOP) as well as a category of long-term prisoner that has not previously been quantified: those serving 'virtual' or de facto life sentences. Even though virtual life sentences can extend beyond the typical lifespan, because the sentences are not legally considered life sentences, traditional counts of life-sentenced prisoners have excluded them until now."