Friday, July 10, 2015

Study finds harsh prison sentences swell ranks of lifers and raise questions about fairness

Stricter state sentencing laws in Washington have swelled the ranks of inmates serving life sentences to nearly one in five.

And some lifers who opted to go to trial are serving much longer sentences than others who committed the same crimes and plea-bargained—raising questions about equitable treatment of prisoners.

Those are among the findings in a new analysis by undergraduate honors students in the University of Washington's Law, Societies & Justice program, who sought to determine the number of lifers in Washington prisons, the legal processes that lead to life sentences and the cost of housing those inmates, many of whom will die behind bars.

Washington largely eliminated its parole system after the state's Sentencing Reform Act was enacted in 1984. The SRA was intended to increase consistency in sentencing and shift the goal of sentencing from rehabilitation, which research at the time indicated did not reduce crime, to punishment.

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