More prisoners are serving life terms than ever before – 140,610 out of 2.3 million inmates being held in jails and prisons across the U.S. – under tough mandatory minimum-sentencing laws and the declining use of parole for eligible convicts, says the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project, which wants to eliminate of life sentences without parole, the New York Times reports. The organization issued a report tracking the increase in life sentences from 1984, when the number of inmates serving life terms was 34,000.
Two-thirds of prisoners serving life sentences are Latino or black, the report found. The rising number of inmates serving life terms is straining corrections budgets at a time when financially strapped states are struggling to cut costs. California's prison system, the nation's largest, with 170,000 inmates, also had the highest number of prisoners with life sentences, 34,164, or triple the number in 1992. In four other states – Alabama, Massachusetts, Nevada, and New York – at least one in six prisoners is serving a life term. “The expansion of life sentences suggests that we're rapidly losing faith in the rehabilitation model,” said Ashley Nellis, the report's main author.