Writing Off Lives

The New York Times
Published: September 29, 2013

The prison population in the United States has declined modestly in recent years after three decades of growth. This is partly the result of saner sentencing policies for nonviolent drug offenders, who are more likely to be given probation and drug treatment than in the past.

At the same time, however, the number of people in prison for life has more than quadrupled since 1984 and continues to grow at a startling pace. The zealous pursuit of these sentences began in the 1970s, becoming something of a fad; it is past time to revisit the practice.

A new study from the Sentencing Project, a research group, found that one in nine inmates, about 160,000 people, is serving a life sentence.

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