With an overwhelming 2.2 million people behind bars, it’s tempting to focus reform efforts on those convicted of non-violent offenses. After all, they represent about half of the incarcerated population. But what about the other half?
A few months ago, I met five men serving life sentences for violent crimes, ranging from robbery to murder, at New York’s notorious Sing Sing Correctional Facility. They took turns introducing themselves. Each started with a heavy litany of numbers: “arrested at 16, convicted at 20, served 24 years.” Having spent most of their lives incarcerated, naturally they were all very different from who they were, some just children, at the start of their sentences.