Although criminal-justice reform has gotten a lot of airtime in the last few years—with some victories in dribs and drabs—a recent study found that the average amount of time served behind bars rose by about five years from 2000 to 2014.
Not surprisingly, black men were serving the longest sentences.
The Urban Institute released its report Wednesday and used inmate data from 44 states. In 35 of the 44 states included in the study, black men accounted for the majority of the prison population serving the longest sentences.
“The key interesting finding—maybe not necessarily surprising to folks—is that time served and length of stay is growing and continues to grow, and importantly the people who are serving particularly long sentences, those prison terms are getting longer and longer,” said Ryan King, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and one of the study’s authors, to Newsweek.
And though some prisons do not keep statistics on race and ethnicity, the institute was able to suss out “significant racial disparities in prisons.”
The saddest part was that 40 percent of those serving the longest prison terms were incarcerated before age 25.
The report reads in part:
Though youth ages 18 to 24 are considered adults in the eyes of the law, a growing body of scientific research suggests that a person’s brain is still developing well into his or her twenties. This means that 18- to 24-year-olds are particularly amenable to change and likely to age out of criminal behavior but do not receive the same protections as youth under 18.
These young people are still given extremely long sentences, including life without parole. And even those given a chance at parole are often blocked by parole boards that, decades later, continue to judge them solely by their original offense.
“So a lot of young adults, a lot of the people serving these long prison terms were incarcerated as young adults and are now in their 40s and 50s and older,” King said. “One in five people in prison for at least 10 years was a black man incarcerated before the age of 25. So to me, that is an even deeper dive to the really concentrated way in which mass incarceration and long prison terms have affected people of color and in particular young black men.”