The practise of prison sentences longer than 20 years is primarily an American phenomenon, much like the nation’s use of LWOP, which is practically unheard of elsewhere in the world. Although life sentences have long been a part of the American criminal justice system, they have only recently gained widespread acceptance in the era of mass incarceration. We propose a 20-year maximum for all life sentences in order to rationally address extreme sentencing, decrease mass incarceration, and redistribute resources to communities that would benefit from effective crime prevention. We come to this conclusion after observing how America’s zeal for ever-harsher punishment has grown despite the fact that more restorative methods are supported by decades of real-world experience, empirical evidence, and social science.
If, after 20 years of imprisonment, it is clear that the individual continues to engage in conduct that would put the public at risk if they were released, a period of civil confinement could be considered by a court. Individuals potentially subjected to such confinement would be entitled to strict due process rights and legal representation. This is similar to the practice in Norway, often held as the gold standard in corrections. The goal here would still be rehabilitation and reintegration, not exclusion, and mandatory periodic review to assess readiness for release would continue.