The first chapter discusses the background and recent trends in the application of life sentences. Over the last decades, the number of lifers nationwide has been rising dramatically. It has been well documented that this growth is linked to policy changes, not to increases in crime rates. The chapter outlines the reasons why we should pay attention to the population of life sentenced individuals: The absence of crime reduction through incarceration, the financial aspects of applying prolonged imprisonment, the adverse social and psychological effects of long-term incarceration and finally, recent developments in legislation that may result in more life-sentenced individuals being released. This book seeks to shed light on this understudied population. While doing so, it assesses what determines success (desistance, or staying out on parole) versus failure (going back to prison) post-release. The chapter provides an overview of the book’s structure in addressing this question.
Keywords: life sentence, lifers, re-entry, desistance, incarceration, imprisonment, prison, policy