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Report cites alarming stats regarding prison sentences, durations

Here's a clear incongruity: Reportedly, the nation's prison population continues its upward swell even as coalescing public opinion embraces the need for material sentencing reforms.

There is ample room for strident debate concerning many aspects of the American criminal justice system, with much inherent complexity and lack of firm agreement on many topics, but this much is eminently clear: the number of people who are locked away inside America's state and federal prisons is far too many, and the discernible trend concerning incarceration does not paint a pretty picture.

Indeed, it sketches a reality that is progressively becoming problematic to an extreme degree and is now threatening the country's justice system in fundamental ways.

A report recently issued by the research organization Sentencing Project passes along the sobering fact that there has been roughly a five-fold increase since 1984 in the number of inmates locked behind bars for life in American prisons.

The Project's central findings are not short on dramatic sound bites, and prominently include these two additional pieces of information as noted in an ABC News report

  • Almost 12,000 people are serving life sentences in penitentiaries across the country for convictions secured against them while they were still teenagers; and
  • More than 17,000 inmates "serving life or virtual life sentences are doing so for nonviolent offenses"

A senior researcher at the Project estimates that taxpayers will on average expend about $1 million annually for upkeep costs on a prisoner who begins serving time in his or her 30s.

Clearly, and for the sake of rehabilitation and cost control, emerging justice policies will need to better address the growing dilemma posed by the country's exploding prison population.

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