A study on the counterproductive impact of life sentences.
Using startling statistical data, the Sentencing Project executive director Mauer (Race to Incarcerate, 1999, etc.) and Nellis (A Return to Justice: Rethinking our Approach to Juveniles in the System, 2015, etc.), senior research analyst, vehemently defend their crusade against life imprisonment, which is the sentence for a shocking number of inmates in American prisons. This number has been steadily rising over the last half-century despite a substantial decline in violent crime. The authors also argue that prison sentences longer than 20 years have “diminishing returns,” with few moral or practical justifications. Bolstering the authors’ arguments are six stirring portraits involving life-sentenced convicts, curated by former lifer Kerry Myers, who served nearly 30 years of his life sentence and remains adamant about his innocence. Mauer and Nellis sprinkle the profiles throughout chapters examining detrimental prison policy choices, racial biases, declining clemency rates, and the negative trends of sentence severity. The authors discuss lifetime terms for juveniles, such as a former Los Angeles gang member convicted of murder in his youth whose productive post-prison life reflects the authors’ core argument. Another instructive story is that of a former convict who credits a disciplined work schedule and daily service-animal training as keys to her rehabilitation during incarceration. As with Mauer’s Race to Incarcerate, this book is convincingly and meticulously researched while also balanced in its acknowledgement that the issue remains complex and highly controversial. Mauer and Nellis not only build a compelling argument for ending life imprisonment; they also provide strategic public-policy groundwork for enacting a maximum 20-year sentence. They outline recommendations for a “full recalibration of the American sentencing structure” and a prison system–wide overhaul that they believe will increase overall public safety. Readers on both sides of the argument will surely find this book fodder for inspired debate and proactive discussion.
A riveting, passionate case against lifetime incarceration and a plea for criminal justice reform.