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Is Life in Prison without Parole a Better Option Than the Death Penalty?



PRO (yes)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated the following in an article titled "The Truth About Life Without Parole: Condemned to Die in Prison," available on its website (accessed Apr. 13, 2015):

"The facts prove that life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP) is swift, severe, and certain punishment...

The death penalty costs more, delivers less, and puts innocent lives at risk. Life without parole provides swift, severe, and certain punishment. It provides justice to survivors of murder victims and allows more resources to be invested into solving other murders and preventing violence. Sentencing people to die in prison is the sensible alternative for public safety and murder victims’ families."

Apr. 13, 2015 - American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) 



Donald McCartin, JD, former California Superior Court judge, stated the following in his Mar. 25, 2011 article titled "Second Thoughts of a 'Hanging Judge,'" published in the Los Angeles Times:

"I presided over 10 murder cases in which I sentenced the convicted men to die. As a result, I became known as 'the hanging judge of Orange County,' an appellation that, I will confess, I accepted with some pride.

I can live with it and, apparently, so can the men I condemned. The first one, Rodney James Alcala, whom I sentenced to die more than 30 years ago for kidnapping and killing 12-year-old Robin Samsoe, was, just last year, again sentenced to death for killing Samsoe and four other young women who, it has subsequently been determined, were his victims around the same time...

Had I known then what I know now, I would have given Alcala and the others the alternative sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Had I done that, Robin's mother, Marianne, would have been spared the pain of 30 appeals and writs and retrial. She could have dealt then and there with the fact that her daughter's killer would be shut away, never again to see a day of freedom, and gone on to put her life together. And the people of California would have not have had to pay many millions of tax dollars in this meaningless and ultimately fruitless pursuit of death.

It's time to stop playing the killing game. Let's use the hundreds of millions of dollars we'll save to protect some of those essential services [such as education] now threatened with death [from state budget cuts]. Let's stop asking people like me to lie to those victim's family members."

Mar. 25, 2011 - Donald McCartin, JD 



Judy Kerr, victim liaison and spokesperson for California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and sister of a murder victim, stated the following in her Mar. 28, 2008 testimony to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, available at ccfaj.org:

"Life without the possibility of parole is an alternative to capital punishment that both addresses our need for public safety and allows us to redirect precious monies currently being used on capital trials to solving cold cases...

Testimony previously heard by this commission indicates that sentencing people to grow old and die naturally in prison costs far less than trying to execute them. Californians pay more than $117 million each year to maintain a death penalty system that is functionally equivalent to death in prison. Over 20 years, the state would save more than $2.34 billion if we actually sentenced everyone on death row to death in prison. These figures don't even include the costs of trials. Each death penalty trial costs a county three times more than a trial seeking death in prison."

Mar. 28, 2008 - Judy Kerr 



Mario Cuomo, JD, Governor of New York at the time of the quote, in a June 17, 1989 article for the New York Times titled "New York State Shouldn't Kill People," wrote:

"What makes the risk of wrongful execution all the more unacceptable is that there is an effective alternative to burning the life out of human beings in the name of public safety. That alternative is just as permanent, at least as great a deterrent and - for those who are so inclined - far less expensive than the exhaustive legal appeals required in capital cases.

That alternative is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. No 'minimums' or 'maximums.' No time off for good behavior. No chance of release by a parole board, ever. Not even the possibility of clemency. It is, in practical effect, a sentence of death in incarceration.

Life without parole is achievable immediately. The Legislature could enact it Monday. I would sign the measure Tuesday. It would apply to crimes committed the next day. In fact, the only thing preventing the next cop killer from spending every day of the rest of his life in jail is the politics of death."

June 17, 1989 - Mario M. Cuomo, JD 



Catherine Appleton, PhD, Research Officer at the Centre for Criminological Research, and Bent Grover, PhD, former Associate for Mitchell Madison Group/marchFIRST, in their Apr. 24, 2007 article for the British Journal of Criminology titled "The Pros and Cons of Life Without Parole," wrote:

"For those in favour of LWOP [life in prison without parole], another key benefit is its retributive power. It is argued that murderers deserve to be so punished because of the heinous nature of their crimes. If the death penalty is to be abolished, a replacement sanction of sufficient gravity needs to be provided by law. Proponents in the United States have emphasized that ‘life without parole is certainly not a lenient sentence ’ (Blair 1994:198). Sometimes referred to as ‘death by incarceration ’ , such sentences are undeniably tough, pleasing both politicians and prosecutors, but also satisfying some opponents of the death penalty...

Deterrence is seen to be another major strength of LWOP. Some abolitionists have put forward the argument that while reviewable life sentences offer little in the way of deterring those who might kill, LWOP is undeniably harsh and its deterrent effect should not be underestimated."

Apr. 24, 2007 - Catherine Appleton, DPhil 
Bent Grøver, PhD 



CON (no)

David R. Dow, JD, Cullen Professor at the University of Houston Law Center, stated the following in his Oct. 26, 2012 article titled "Life Without Parole: A Different Death Penalty," available at thenation.com:

"As a death row lawyer who fights to keep his clients alive, I believe life without parole denies the possibility of redemption every bit as much as strapping a murderer to the gurney and filling him with poison...

I've had clients who want me to fight for them, and then when we win and get their death sentence converted into life, end up telling me I've betrayed them...

For California's 725 death row inmates, having their sentences commuted to life without parole would mean automatically losing their right to state-appointed lawyers to pursue their habeas corpus appeals. For a huge proportion, this would instantly rob them of every last ember of hope and increase by up to 20 percent the number of California inmates who will grow old and die behind bars."

Oct. 26, 2012 - David R. Dow, JD 



Kenneth E. Hartman, prisoner serving a sentence of life in prison without parole for murder and Executive Director of The Other Death Penalty Project, stated the following in his 2008 essay titled "The Other Death Penalty," available at theotherdeathpenalty.org:

"I was sentenced to the quieter, less troublesome death penalty, the one too many of those well-meaning activists bandy about as the sensible alternative to state-sanctioned execution: life without the possibility of parole…

I have often wondered if that 15 or 20 minutes of terror found to be cruel and unusual wouldn't be a better option.

There is more to it than the mere physical act of imprisonment, much more. The more than 3,000 life without parole prisoners in this state [California] also enter a rough justice kind of limbo existence. We are condemned to serve out our lives in the worst (maximum security) prisons, which otherwise are specifically designed to be punitive. This means, in practice, rehabilitative and restorative type programs, the kind of programs that can bring healing and meaning to a prisoner's life, are generally not available to us. The thinking goes that since we will never get out of prison there is no point in expending scarce resources on dead men walking…

I agree that state-sanctioned execution is morally repugnant. I do not agree that a life devoid of any possibility of restoration is a reasonable or humane alternative. It simply is not. A death penalty by any other name is as cruel, as violent, and as wrong... Both forms of the death penalty need to be discarded in a truly just society."

2008 - Kenneth E. Hartman 



James Ridgeway and Jean Casella, Co-Directors and Editors-in-Chief of Solitary Watch, an organization seeking to raise awareness about the impact of solitary confinement, stated the following in their Nov. 30, 2014 article titled "What Death Penalty Opponents Don't Get," available at themarshallproject.org:

"In many states, the expansion—and the very existence—of life without parole sentences can be directly linked to the struggle to end capital punishment. Death penalty opponents often accept—and even zealously promote--life without parole as a preferable option, in the process becoming champions of a punishment that is nearly unknown in the rest of the developing world...

Though the requirement that life/LWOP sentences be served in solitary confinement is codified into law only in Connecticut, it exists in practice throughout the nation...

Research has confirmed that even brief periods in solitary alter brain chemistry and produce psychiatric symptoms ranging from extreme depression to active psychosis. Some prisoners who have spent longer amounts of time in isolation describe it as a condition that slowly degrades both their humanity and sanity, turning them into blind animals given to interminable pacing, smearing their cells with feces, or engaging in self-mutilation."

Nov. 30, 2014 - Jean Casella 
James Ridgeway 



Ronald Earle, JD, Travis County District Attorney, was quoted in a July 8, 2003 article for TIME magazine titled "Guarding Death's Door," discussing the conviction, death sentence, commutation to life imprisonment and subsequent release of murderer Kenneth McDuff who killed eight more people after being released:

"[Kenneth McDuff] was a clear and present danger I guess a true [death penalty] abolitionist would say, 'Put this guy in prison for life,' but he had already gotten that punishment, and he got out. Also, murderers can kill again in prison. It happens all the time. The death penalty is a necessity in these cases."

July 8, 2003 - Ronald Earle, JD 



David Schaefer, PhD, Professor of Political Science at Holy Cross College, in his Dec. 2001 article for The American Enterprise titled "The Death Penalty and Its Alternatives," wrote:

"Death penalty opponents often argue that executing criminals is a needless act of inhumanity, since the threat of a sentence of life without parole is just as effective a deterrent to crime. Whatever one thinks of that claim in the abstract, the fact is that no jury has the legal authority to prevent government officials years or decades in the future from offering clemency or parole after all -- or to prevent judges at some later date from finding grounds for a new trial...

Anti-death-penalty groups know, of course, that there is no guarantee that a sentence of life without parole will actually be followed. Potential killers likely know it too. Those of us who believe that the punishment should in some since fit the crime may doubt the prospect of spending two or even more decades behind bars, with the hope of ultimate emancipation... constitutes just retribution for an act of cold-blooded murder... And in a society that doubts its right to impose the ultimate penalty on individuals who have committed the most vicious crimes against their fellow citizens, the horror against committing murder will tend inevitably to erode."

Dec. 2001 - David Schaefer, PhD