A national study found that more prisoners today are serving life sentences across the country than ever before. Alabama ranks among the top three states for number of life sentences imposed and is the national leader in racially disproportionate sentencing of children to life in prison.
Nationwide, 140,610 out of 2.3 million inmates being held in jails and prisons are serving sentences of life imprisonment with or without parole. The study, conducted by the Sentencing Project, noted that number is up from 34,000 life sentences in 1984.
Alabama ranks third in the country in the percentage of inmates it locks up for life with or without parole: 17.3 percent of the state prison population is serving life. Alabama has the nation’s fifth largest incarceration rate, and the state’s overcrowded, underfunded prison system is under increasing strain.
Two-thirds of prisoners serving life sentences in the United States are Latino or Black. Alabama leads the nation with the highest percentage of African American children serving life sentences. More than 84% of children sentenced to life without parole in Alabama are Black; the national average is 56%.
Alabama Department of Corrections officials are among those calling for reform of Alabama’s sentencing scheme. State Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett told The Birmingham News, “Something must give. If you want to continue to lock folks up at this rate, you’re going to have to pay for it. Otherwise you need to look at your sentencing structure.” As EJI Director Bryan Stevenson observed, “It costs $15,000 a year to keep a person in prison. And in the case of juveniles, we would be paying that for decades.”