Almost 10% of prisoners incarcerated in the US are serving life sentences, an all-time high, the New York Times reports. In California, which maintains the nation’s highest prison population, that number is 20%, says a report from the Sentencing Project, a group that wants to eliminate life-without-parole sentences. Two-thirds of those serving life sentences are black or Latino—in New York, for example, just 16.3% of lifers are white. And even those eligible for parole are unlikely to get the chance.
“When California courts sentence somebody to life with parole, it turns out that’s not possible after all,” a professor says. “Board of parole hearings almost never grant releases.” And though the public is softening on nonviolent crime, it appears to be staunchly hardline when it comes to violence. “They’re not willing to do anything different for violent offenders,” the professor says.