Is Life in Prison without Parole a Better Option Than the Death Penalty?
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in a section on its website about the death penalty accessed on Aug. 19, 2008, in an article titled "The Truth About Life Without Parole: Condemned to Die in Prison," wrote:
"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."
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."
John P. Conrad, MA, former Chief of the Center for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation at the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, in a chapter titled "The Retributivist's Case against Capital Punishment," in a 1983 book titled The Death Penalty: A Debate, wrote:
"I hold that the execution of the most contemptible murderer conflicts
with the true functions of retributive justice— the repudiation of evil
done and the prospective reconciliation of the criminal with the
community he has wronged. When punishment lapses into mere retaliation,
the criminal's total criminality is affirmed; there can be no reason to
expect reconciliation. When that retaliation takes the form of
execution, the community makes it clear that it expects neither
atonement nor reconciliation. The unreconciled criminal was our enemy;
once he is executed he is still unreconciled, a dead enemy.
The scales of punishment that should
compose the structure of retributive justice do not require
retaliation, even at the apex where murderers must be punished. Capital
punishment can be justified only by retaliatory justice as practiced in
ancient Greece and Rome. For retributive justice, long imprisonment,
sometimes life imprisonment, is the response that fits the continuity of punishments to which modern society is now committed...
death penalty is an anachronism of which society must purge itself so
that the process of retributive justice may contribute to order and solidarity rather than to the inflammation of hostility."
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."
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."
Cass R. Sunstein, JD, Professor of Law at Harvard University Law School and Adrian Vermeule, JD, Professor of Law at Harvard University Law School, in their May-June, 2005 article for the Stanford Law Review titled "Morally Required? Acts, Omissions and Life-Life Tradeoffs," wrote:
"[C]apital punishment may be morally required, not for retributive reasons, but rather to prevent the taking of innocent lives...
A leading national study suggests that each execution prevents some eighteen murders, on average. If the current evidence is even roughly correct--a question to which we shall return--then a refusal to impose capital punishment will effectively condemn numerous innocent people to death. States that choose life imprisonment, when they might choose capital punishment, are ensuring the deaths of a large number of innocent people. On moral grounds, a choice that effectively condemns large numbers of people to death seems objectionable to say the least. For those who are inclined to be skeptical of capital punishment for moral reasons--a group that includes one of the current authors--the task is to consider the possibility that the failure to impose capital punishment is, prima facie and all things considered, a serious moral wrong."
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
Hugo Adam Bedau, JD, Emeritus Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University, in his 2004 book titled Debating the Death Penalty: Should America Have Capital Punishment? The Experts on Both Sides Make Their Best Case, wrote:
"Few death row prisoners try to commit suicide and fewer succeed. Few death row prisoners insist that all appeals on their behalf be dropped. Few convicted murderers sentenced to life in prison declare years later that they wish they had been sentenced instead to death and executed. Few if any death row prisoners refuse clemency if it is offered to them. No doubt prison life can be made unbearable and hideous; no doubt death row can be managed by the authorities in an inhumane fashion. But none of this is necessary. No doubt not all life-term prisoners find ways to make their imprisonment something more than an inhumane endurance test. So it should hardly come as a surprise that the vast majority of friends of the death penalty as well as its opponents believe that death is worse than imprisonment. This is why its opponents want to abolish it—and why its supporters want to keep it. So we can accept the second proposition without further ado...
[A] great deal of crime is committed on a cost-benefit schema, wherein the criminal engages in some form of risk assessment as to his or her chances of getting caught and punished in some manner. If he or she estimates the punishment mild, the crime becomes inversely attractive, and vice versa. The fact that those who are condemned to death do everything in their power to get their sentences postponed or reduced to long-term prison sentences, in the way lifers do not, shows that they fear death more than life in prison..."