Last updated on: 9/20/2021 | Author: ProCon.org

Should Life without Parole Replace the Death Penalty?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

Cary Aspinwall, staff-writer for The Marshall Project, in a May 22, 2021 article, “Life without Parole Is Replacing the Death Penalty — but the Legal Defense System Hasn’t Kept Up,” available at themarshallproject.org, stated:

“Life-without-parole sentences are steadily replacing the death penalty across the United States. Almost 56,000 people nationwide are now serving sentences that will keep them locked up until they die, an increase of 66% since 2003, according to The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit that advocates for shorter prison terms.

By comparison, only 2,500 people nationally are on death row according to the Death Penalty Information Center; the number of new death sentences dwindled to 18 last year, as prosecutors increasingly seek life instead…

Though thousands are serving life without parole for violent crimes such as homicide, courts in almost a dozen states have given hundreds of people that penalty for drug crimes.Prosecutors have found that jurors are less squeamish about locking people up for the rest of their lives than about executing them. And life-without-parole trials cost thousands of dollars less than death penalty cases. They are shorter, involve fewer lawyers, allow limited appeals and often end in plea deals before trial…

Half the people serving life without parole are locked up in just five states: California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Only Alaska doesn’t permit this punishment.”

May 22, 2021

Jeffrey M. Jones, PhD, Gallup Senior Editor, in a Nov. 25, 2019 article, “Americans Now Support Life in Prison over Death Penalty,” available at news.gallup.com, stated:

“For the first time in Gallup’s 34-year trend, a majority of Americans say that life imprisonment with no possibility of parole is a better punishment for murder than the death penalty is.

The 60% to 36% advantage for life imprisonment marks a shift from the past two decades, when Americans were mostly divided in their views of the better punishment for murder. During the 1980s and 1990s, consistent majorities thought the death penalty was the better option for convicted murderers.”

Nov. 25, 2019

Law.com, an online resource for legal news and information, in a dictionary entry accessed on Aug. 18, 2008, defined life in “prison without the possibility of parole” as the following:

“[A] sentence sometimes given for particularly vicious criminals in murder cases or to repeat felons, particularly if the crime is committed in a state which has no death penalty, the jury chooses not to impose the death penalty, or the judge feels it is simpler to lock the prisoner up and ‘throw away the key’ rather than invite years of appeals while the prisoner languishes on death row. Opponents of capital punishment often advocate this penalty as a substitute for execution. It guarantees the criminal will not endanger the public, and the prospect of never being outside prison is severe punishment. Contrary arguments are that this penalty does not deter murderers, there is always the possibility of escape or killing a guard or fellow prisoner, or some soft-hearted Governor may someday reduce the sentence.”

Aug. 18, 2008 - Law.com

PRO (yes)

Pro

Fintan P. Moore, Jr., retired police officer, and Stephen Kaneb, businessman, both are ordained deacons in the Catholic Church, in a Apr. 24, 2019 article, “Our Turn: Respect the Dignity of Life — End the Death Penalty,” available at concordmonitor.com, stated:

“Our Catholic faith and all other faith traditions teach that human life is a gift from God. Every person has intrinsic dignity, even those who commit serious crimes. Because the sanctity of life comes from God, it cannot be earned through good acts or lost through bad acts.

Executing someone takes away their chance to redeem themselves. Many people who have committed crimes come to understand what they did and seek forgiveness and mercy from God. It is not the place of others, and certainly not the government, to foreclose someone else’s opportunity for redemption…

A society that practices capital punishment will execute innocent people.

Scripture tells us: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17). The death penalty is not noble. It brings out the worst in us, fanning the flames of revenge and perpetuating the cycle of violence by answering killing with more killing. In each moment of our lives, we have the chance to reflect on who we want to be. State-sponsored executions do not represent the best in us…

[S]entences of life without the possibility of parole are available to hold offenders accountable and keep the public safe.”

Apr. 24, 2019

Pro

Peter Meijer, MBA, US Representative (R-MI), as quoted in the May 12, 2021 press release from Representative Ayanna Pressley’s (MA-D) office, “Momentum Grows for Pressley Legislation to End Federal Death Penalty,” available at pressley.house.gov, stated:

“I do not trust the government to never execute an innocent person. In 2017, Ledell Lee was executed in Arkansas for the murder of his neighbor. He maintained his innocence until his own death by lethal injection. This week – four years after Lee’s execution – DNA testing of the murder weapon showed a different man’s genetic material. Furthermore, the death penalty is a poor use of taxpayer dollars; the process of execution is more costly than life without parole. Individuals who commit violent crimes should live out their natural lives with the consequences of their actions. I am proud to cosponsor this bipartisan, bicameral bill to end federal death penalty sentencing and require resentencing of those who are currently on federal death row. I hope this measure advances swiftly through the House.”

May 12, 2021

Pro

The ACLU of Washington, in an undated article, “Replace the Death Penalty with Life Incarceration,” available at aclu-wa.org and accessed on Sep. 17, 2021, stated:

“The ACLU of Washington supports legislation that eliminates the death penalty in favor of life incarceration without the possibility of parole.

The death penalty in Washington has proven costly and unfair, and has not resulted in a reduction in crime. It’s time to follow other states’ lead and stop wasting millions of our tax dollars on a capital punishment system that is broken beyond repair….

Life without parole is a sensible alternative to the death penalty.

A sentence of life without parole means exactly what it says—those convicted of crimes are locked away in prison until they die. However, unlike the death penalty, a sentence of life without parole allows mistakes to be corrected or new evidence to come to light. And life without parole is far less expensive.”

Sep. 17, 2021

Pro

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

Pro

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

Pro

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

Pro

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 - Bent Grøver, PhD Catherine Appleton, DPhil

CON (no)

Con

Robert Blecker, JD, New York Law School Professor, in a July 24, 2020 article, “Life without Parole Is No Substitute for Capital Punishment,” available at newsweek.com, stated:

“Justice requires that those who commit the worst crimes experience the most unpleasant punishment; also, that those who commit the least serious crimes experience the mildest punishment. Distinct from revenger, retribution also acts as a limit on punishment—no less nor more than deserved. Let the punishment fit the crime. Keep punishment proportional to the gravity of the offense, or the moral depravity of the offender…

The question of justice—whether LWOP can morally substitute for the death penalty—depends not on where these vicious killers die, but on how they live before they die.

A retributivist would link the experience inside with the severity of the crime outside. The quality of the food, the number and nature of visits, access to popular programs, telephone privileges—every aspect of life inside would, and should, relate primarily to the criminal’s past crime. But by severing the crime committed outside from the quality of time spent inside, both prisoners and prison administrators undermine any justice or proportionality attaching to life without parole…

As long as a prisoner’s daily experience inside is either severed from or perversely connected to the crime committed on the outside, prisons can, and will never become an instrument of justice. This perverse and utter failure of LWOP destroys its claim as the better alternative to the death penalty.”

July 24, 2020

Con

Peter Irons, PhD, JD, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of California at San Diego, in a June 24, 2020 article, “A Prison Sentence of Life without Parole Isn’t Called the Death Penalty. But It Should Be.,” available at nbcnews.com, stated:

“[W]e need to revisit and replace what I call ‘the extended death penalty,’ known officially as life without parole, or LWOP. Embraced by many abolitionists as a more humane alternative to the death penalty, it is now supported by a majority of the public over execution; a Gallup poll in October showed 60 percent chose LWOP as the punishment for murder.

In addition, as more and more prosecutors seek the death penalty more infrequently, if at all­­, they routinely press for LWOP sentences in first-degree murder cases, and sometimes for second-degree murder and armed robbery. There’s no uniform standard to decide which defendants deserve to eventually be eligible for parole and which don’t; these choices are inherently ‘arbitrary and capricious’ and the antithesis of fairness.

As a result, even with death-sentenced inmates at a modern low of some 2,800, there are now more than 53,000 serving LWOP sentences, a four-fold increase in the past two decades. Another 44,000 are serving ‘virtual life’ sentences of 50 or more years, past the life expectancies of almost all inmates. In other words, some 97,000 inmates have still been condemned to die behind bars…

Those who receive life sentences with parole eligibility return to prison for another violent crime at a rate of only 1.2 percent. Though LWOP inmates, by definition, cannot present any evidence of rehabilitation to a parole board, it’s reasonable to expect that ending life without parole sentences would not unleash a new murder wave.”

June 24, 2020

Con

Nathalie Baptiste, reporter, for Mother Jones in a Mar. 12, 2021 article, “Are Life Sentences a Merciful Alternative to the Death Penalty?,” available at motherjones.com, stated:

“The legal options for those who are sentenced to life without parole are also far more limited than for those who are sentenced to death. Once someone is sentenced to death, the appeals process offers the defendant and his team of lawyers the opportunity to appeal the sentence, usually attempting to overturn it. If the state is going to put someone to death, the reasoning goes, it should be sure that the conviction is fair…

Perhaps now—when execution as a punishment has never seemed so obscene and unacceptable—it’s the right time to reconsider all punishments. What is the real difference between spending years behind bars only to die strapped to a gurney while correctional staff administer enough drugs to kill you, and languishing behind bars until so-called natural causes finally, mercifully, takes your life? Are these differences sufficient to end one punishment and while still justifying another? If the United States is on the cusp of abolishing the death penalty, perhaps it should take the next logical step and abolish another form of cruel and unusual punishment as well: life imprisonment.”

Mar. 12, 2021

Con

Joseph Dole, who is currently sentenced to life without parole for a double murder, in an undated article, “Why I Am Still on Death Row,” available at prisonwriters.com and accessed on Sep. 15, 2021, stated:

“I was never on ‘death row.’ Instead of being sentenced to death by execution, I was sentenced to death by incarceration or Life-Without-Parole (LWOP), the invisible death row. Does that mean I’m mean trilled to have been ‘spared’ the death penalty? Quite the contrary. Had the judge ordered me executed, I probably would have been much better off…

Those given the death penalty get all sorts of legal resources thrown at them, while lifers are left to fend for themselves. The numbers tell it all. A whopping 73% of death penalty convictions are overturned, while only 7% of lifers’ convictions are…

Serving a life-without-parole sentence, I am now one of thousands on Illinois’ invisible death row. Across America, we ‘lifers’ now number over 100,000 (and growing)… Even opponents of the death penalty argue that LWOP is the perfect alternative to the death penalty. As if the end result were somehow different. The end result, however, is exactly the same – no freedom whatsoever, no second chances, and death in prison. Death may not come as quickly as a planned execution, but it’s still a death sentence all the same. They think that supporting LWOP sentences is not supporting a death sentence – that their hands are clean. It is a death sentence though – death by incarceration. They are still supporting state-sanctioned taking of a life.”

Sep. 15, 2021

Con

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

Con

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…

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

Con

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