Report: Nearly half of Americans serving life without parole are elderly

WASHINGTON, D.C. –The Sentencing Project has released an extensive analysis of 40,000 people serving life without parole (LWOP) in the United States, revealing that almost half (47%) are at least 50 years old. 

“Older people present an extremely low risk to public safety; imprisonment until their death is inhumane and represents ineffective crime prevention,” said Ashley Nellis, Ph.D., Senior Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project and author of the report. “Without intervention, the number of elderly people serving life without parole stands to increase  substantially in the coming decade, and prisons are largely unprepared to handle their medical, social, physical, and mental health needs.”

The report, Nothing but Time: Elderly Americans Serving Life Without Parole, investigates demographic, crime, and sentencing data of individuals in 20 states serving LWOP, which represents three-quarters of people serving LWOP nationally. The analysis shows that: 

•47 percent of people serving LWOP are at least 50 years old.

•60 percent of the elderly imprisoned serving LWOP have already served at least 20 years.

•Half of aging people serving LWOP are Black and nearly 60 percent are people of color.

•One in 7 of the elderly LWOP population was under 25 at the time of their offense.

•In ten years, even if no additional LWOP sentences were added in these states, 30,000 people will be 50 or older.

The report relies on data obtained from state departments of corrections and makes a series of recommendations for reform:

•Allow immediate sentence review with presumption for release for those who are 50 and older and have served 10 years;

•Reinstate parole for those currently ineligible;

•Give added weight to advanced age at parole or sentence review hearings;

•Revise medical release statutes and policies to include persons sentenced to life imprisonment; and

•Expand clemency release opportunities.

About The Sentencing Project - The Sentencing Project promotes effective and humane responses to crime that minimize imprisonment and criminalization of youth and adults by promoting racial, ethnic, economic, and gender justice.