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America’s swelling prison population: a ticking time bomb?

There is no dearth of evidence to suggest that an ever-growing number of Tennessee residents and other Americans across the country are strongly favoring efforts to materially reform the country’s criminal justice system in a manner that better promotes equity and drives down costs.

Pundits routinely report that. And news articles regularly point to a strong coming together of bipartisan support — lacking for many years — that is collectively sounding a clarion call for sentencing adjustments that simply make more sense than often seems to be the case.

Why, then, is the country’s prison population soaring, with an ever-escalating number of inmates serving life sentences, concurrently with such a discernibly noted public trend?

A recent ABC News report points to that phenomenon, citing a just-released study issued by the national research group Sentencing Project. The network spotlights the study finding “that the trend [the progressively ballooning inmate population] is occurring while crime rates are dropping nationally and political support for criminal justice reform is growing.”

What is perhaps most notable as a Project finding is that the number of prisoners serving life sentences following felony convictions is at an all-time high and churning steadily upward. Remarkably, it is estimated that more than 17,000 of those inmates were sentenced for nonviolent offenses. Moreover, thousands of them had lifetime lockups imposed “for crimes they committed in their teenage years.”

Much public sentiment clearly favors an alternative to lengthy incarceration in many instances. Equity demands so, as does a growing public concern with the sheer costs involved in housing an inmate for decades or an entire life.

A Project principal states that, “A prisoner who starts his or her sentence in their 30s will, on average, cost the state $1 million per year.”