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Life Sentences in America: A Key Feature of Mass Incarceration

Library books
February 9, 2016

February 15, UMD’s Center for Ethics and Public Policy is sponsoring a public lecture.

ethics and public policyOn Monday, February 15 from 7 pm–9 pm, UMD’s Center for Ethics and Public Policy is sponsoring a public lecture by Ashley Nellis, senior research analyst, The Sentencing Project, where she will discuss the connections between life sentences and mass incarceration.

The event will take place at UMD’s Labovitz School of Business & Economics Room 118. This event is free and open to the public.

The United States leads the world in incarceration; our prison population has increased by 500% over the last 40 years, standing at over 2 million people in prisons and jails today. This did not happen overnight. Our current state of mass incarceration is the end product of a series of poorly designed policies that were believed to reduce crime and allay concerns about public safety.  Some of these policies are responsible for the quadrupling of life sentences since 1984. Today, one in 9 people in prison is serving a life sentence. This presentation will discuss the policies and practices that have created the current prison system and explore some of the steps that will be necessary to see significant reform.

Dr. Ashley Nellis has an academic and professional background in analyzing criminal justice policies and practice, and has extensive experience in analyzing disparities among youth of color in the juvenile justice system. She leads The Sentencing Project's research and legislative activities in juvenile justice reform and serves on several youth-serving coalitions and working groups in the Washington, D.C. area. She regularly delivers testimony, writes articles and reports, and conducts research. Nellis is the author of A Return to Justice: Rethinking our Approach to Juveniles in the System, which chronicles America’s historical treatment of youth in the justice system and discusses the work that remains in order to reorient the juvenile justice practices toward the original vision. She is actively engaged in federal and state efforts to eliminate life without parole sentences for juveniles and to reconsider lengthy sentences for all prisoners. She received her Ph.D. in Justice, Law and Society from American University’s School of Public Affairs.

This lecture is funded by the Charles Koch Foundation.

For more information about this event and The Center for Ethics and Public Policy, see