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Today the Alice Project – a collaboration among The Sentencing Project, the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, and the Cornell University Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide – released a new report analyzing extreme sentences imposed on thousands of women in the U.S. One of every 15 women in prison – amounting to more than 6,600 women – is serving a life sentence. Of these, 2,000 women are serving life without parole (LWOP). Another 52 women in the U.S. are awaiting execution.

Since 2008, the number of women serving LWOP has grown an alarming 43 percent. Florida, Pennsylvania, California, Michigan, Louisiana, and Mississippi lead the nation in the use of this hopeless sentence. California outpaces all other states in the number of women on death row.

Racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal legal system are tightly linked to disparities in the racial composition of women serving extreme sentences. More than four in ten women on death row are people of color. And, one of every 39 Black women in prison is serving LWOP.

Many women facing extreme sentences experienced trauma and abuse prior to their imprisonment. A majority of the women have endured sexual and/or domestic violence, and the legal system has consistently failed to take their experiences into account. Imprisonment often exacerbates their trauma.

In the Extreme: Women Serving Life Without Parole and Death Sentences in the United States is authored by Ashley Nellis, Ph.D., Senior Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project. The report is a joint publication of The Sentencing Project, National Black Women’s Justice Institute and the Cornell University Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide who together in 2020 formed the Alice Project. The collaboration seeks to highlight the experiences of incarcerated women and girls, expose the influence of racial and gender bias on extreme sentencing, and reduce reliance on extreme punishments. For more information on joining the network, email anellis@sentencingproject.org.