Fact Sheet on Virtual Life Sentences
Date:  09-02-2019

The Sentencing Project collected data for the first-ever count of virtual life sentences being served
From The Sentencing Project:

The lengthening of prison terms starting in the 1980s is well documented as a main driver of mass incarceration. The causes for this increase are changes in policy, not changes in crime, and include establishing mandatory minimums, extending wait times before parole hearings, transferring juveniles to the adult court system, and expanding sentence lengths based on criminal history. The expansion of life sentences is one outcome of these policies. or longer becomes a virtual life sentence for most individuals. This fact sheet provides a summary of this long-overlooked population of individuals serving such sentences.


The Sentencing Project conducted a nationwide census of people serving life sentences in 2016, including collecting data for the first-ever count of virtual life sentences being served. Our research documented that in prisons around the U.S., over 44,000 individuals are serving virtual life sentences.

States with particularly large segments of the population serving virtual life sentences are Alaska, Indiana, Louisiana, Montana, and New Mexico, ranging from 9% to 17% of the state prison population. Among these states, Alaska, Indiana, and Montana are particularly noteworthy because of the disproportionately high number of virtual life sentences in comparison to statutorily defined sentences of life with parole and life without parole. Therefore, they may be overlooked if the focus is solely on statutorily defined life imprisonment. Continue reading >>>