Ashley Nellis

Senior Research Analyst, The Sentencing Project

Areas of Expertise

  • Life and long term imprisonment
  • Parole
  • Second look sentencing
  • Criminal legal reform
  • Racial and ethnic disparities
  • Youth justice

Key Findings

  • In 2012, the population of prisoners serving life without parole rose 22.2% from 2008. MORE
  • In 2012, the population of prisoners serving life without parole rose 22.2% from 2008. MORE
  • More than 10,000 inmates were convicted of crimes before they turned 18 years old and nearly one in four were sentenced to life without parole in 2012. MORE
  • Seventy-nine percent of juveniles with life sentences experienced high levels of violence in their homes with 54% witnessing weekly violence in their neighborhoods. MORE
  • Nearly half of juveniles sentenced to life experienced physical abuse, increasing to more than three-quarters (79.5%) for girls in 2012. MORE
  • One-third of juveniles serving life sentences were raised in public housing. MORE
  • The number of incarcerated youth as been cut in half nationally from 2008 to 2016. MORE


Ashley Nellis, Senior Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project, is an expert in life sentences, life-without-parole sentences and incarceration.

Nellis focuses on extreme sentencing policies in the justice system and their consequences on prisoners, families of incarcerated people and American society. She has conducted a series of national investigations into the use of life sentences for adults and produced law review pieces, book chapters and journal articles on the topic. Her work closely tracks youth justice, the role of race and the use of life sentences for juveniles (JLWOP). In 2012, she published results from a national survey of inmates serving such sentences.

She is the author of A Return to Justice: Rethinking our Approach to Juveniles in the System, and her findings from research on lifers has been widely cited.

Follow Ashley on Twitter: @love_justice

Nellis received her Ph.D. and M.S. in Criminal Justice from American University’s School of Public Affairs and B.A. in Criminal Justice from St. Edward’s University.