1,200 Prisoners Are Serving Life Sentences in New Jersey
For some, it's as good — or as bad — as a death sentence.
More than 1,200 prisoners in New Jersey are spending life behind bars, according to a report released Wednesday by criminal justice reform organization The Sentencing Project.
Seventy-seven of these lifers have no shot at parole.
An additional 876 inmates in New Jersey, the report states, are serving a "virtual" life sentence — a term of imprisonment so long that a person is unlikely to survive if carried out in full.
The report points to more than 20,000 prisoners in New Jersey, based on data gathered in 2016. In all, more than 10 percent of Garden State prisoners are serving some form of life sentence.
"We now have a record number of people serving life and life without parole sentences in the Unites States," said Ashley Nellis, report author, during a Wednesday morning teleconference with members of the media. "The Sentencing Project has some long-standing concerns about people at the deep end of the punishment spectrum."
More than 200,000 people — or 14 percent of the prison population — were serving life or virtual life sentences in 2016.
Nationwide, sentences of life without parole grew by 59 percent between 2003 and 2016, versus 18 percent growth in sentences of life with parole, according to the report. That's despite some modest declines in the overall prison population and sustained declines in violent crime, Nellis said.
Considering all three categories of life sentences, 41 percent of lifers are serving for convictions other than homicide; 17,000 may spend the rest of their lives in prison for a nonviolent crime.
"In order to truly challenge mass incarceration, we’re really going to need to dig deeper into the prison system and look at more people who might be qualified for release," Nellis told reporters.
The report made some modest and extreme reform recommendations, including the elimination of life without parole sentences.
As of January 2016, the median term for New Jersey inmates is six years, according to the state Department of Corrections. Most are serving sentences of one to five years. Thirty-eight percent are serving maximum sentences of 10 years or more.