Volume: 23, Number: 1
October 2010

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Life Without Parole

On May 17, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that life without parole (LWOP) sentences for juveniles in noncapital cases are unconstitutional. This issue of Federal Sentencing Reporter focuses on the historic nature of Graham and on the increasing prevalence of LWOP sentences. In 2008, 1 in 39 inmates were serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, a figure that has more than tripled in just 16 years. This issue of FSR considers the controversies surrounding LWOP sentences, their viability as an alternative to capital punishment, and how aging LWOP populations tax correctional resources over the long term.

Editor's Observations

The Beginning of the End for Life Without Parole?
Michael M. O'Hear, associate dean for research and professor of law at Marquette University Law School and editor, Federal Sentencing Reporter, and LifeSentencesBlog.com

Featured Article

Throwing Away the Key: The Expansion of Life Without Parole Sentences in the United States
Ashley Nellis, research analyst, The Sentencing Project

Vera’s featured article, written by Ashley Nellis, chronicles the era of “tough on crime” policies that ushered in LWOP sentences. Nellis writes that the issue of parole-ineligible life sentences is complex and cannot be regarded as merely severe consequences for violent offenses. Rather, many LWOP sentences are the product of habitual offender laws that are applied to nonviolent property and drug-related crimes. Nellis points out that such policy rejects the idea of personal reformation and prevents the fiscally sound decision to parole aging inmates who are a low risk to public safety. 

Other articles in this issue

(available through the University of California Press)

Commentary on Graham v. Florida