The Sentencing Project recently released Delaying a Second Chance: The Declining Prospects for Parole on Life Sentences. The Report’s findings came from a national survey to which 31 states and the federal government responded to with available date since 1980. (Full report available here). Some of the highlights are below:
Prisoners serving a life sentence have seen marked increase over the last two decades and represent a significant portion of the incarcerated population.
As of 2012 one in nine people in state and federal prisoners were there for life sentences (approx. 160,000). The number of people serving life sentences has quadrupled since 1984.
More frequent impositions of life sentences and reluctance to grant parole to those serving life sentences has driven the growth in this population.
Sixty-four percent of lifers were convicted of homicide. But, there were more than 10,000 people serving life sentences for nonviolent offenses in 2012.
An examination of lifers released in California found a recidivism rate of less than 1%
Among a group of 860 individuals convicted of murder who were paroled between 1995 and 2011, less than 1% were sentenced to jail or prison for new felonies, and none recidivated for life-term crimes.
The Report concluded with the following recommendations:
- Expedite parole eligibility: Reduce the minimum number of years that lifers must serve before their first parole hearing and shorten wait times for subsequent hearings.
- Depoliticize and professionalize parole boards: Distance governors from paroling authorities to enable parole decisions to be based on meaningful assessments of public safety risk.
- Establish a presumption of release: Parole boards should assume that parole candidates are potentially suited for release at the initial, and especially subsequent, parole hearings unless an individual is deemed to pose an unreasonable public safety risk.
- Improve the integrity of parole hearings: Expand the procedural rights of parole applicants, enable parole applicants to review the evidence used to evaluate their eligibility for parole, and allow the public to review decision-making criteria and outcomes.