The number of people serving life sentences in the United States exceeds the nation's entire prison population in 1970, according to new data released by The Sentencing Project's Campaign to End Life Imprisonment.

But the Garden State doesn't follow this pattern.

The 2016 life-sentenced population in New Jersey (2,080) was a little more than a third of the state's total prison population 50 years ago (5,704), the report shows. And the percentage has declined in the years since.

In 24 states, there are more people serving life sentences than the state's entire prison population in 1970, according to the report. The totals are just within 100 of each other in an additional nine states. In Nevada and Utah, current life-sentenced populations are more than four times the states' entire prison population 50 years ago.

"One in seven people in prison today is serving a life sentence. It's over 200,000 people," said senior research analyst Ashley Nellis. "We see that as problematic because we are in this area right now of criminal justice reform, where we're scaling back and we're dismantling a piece at a time the structure of mass incarceration."

The Sentencing Project says most people serving life sentences, including for murder, "will not forever present a risk to public safety." Even those who have committed repeated crimes, the group says, gradually desist from this type of conduct by their late 30s or 40s.

"To keep someone in prison in their geriatric years is not serving the community at all, but it is causing a burden financially on the state," Nellis said.

As of January 2019 in New Jersey, according to the state Department of Corrections, there were 1,083 individuals serving a life sentence with the chance for parole. Another 86 individuals were serving a sentence of life without parole. As of Feb. 26, New Jersey had 18,378 state-sentenced offenders housed in prisons, county jails and halfway houses.

Nellis said New Jersey is among a group of about 30 states where conviction for first-degree murder requires a life sentence without parole.

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