Pennsylvania Is Sentencing People For Life Without Parole: Report

“Most of the sentences — over 99 percent of them — are imposed mandatorily, meaning that there’s no discretion for judges to impose a lesser sentence.”

Pennsylvania is giving life sentences to people that too with ruling out the possibility of a parole, a new report finds.

A detailed report, “A Way Out: Abolishing Death By Incarceration in Pennsylvania,” from the Abolitionist Law Center which was recently published showed that there are currently 5,346 people serving life sentences without parole in the state.

Florida is only one state in the United States that has more number of inmates than Pennsylvania that too because it has nearly twice the population and twice the number of people imprisoned.

2,694 people are serving life sentences without parole only in Philadelphia County. The high number of inmates is more than any U.S. county.

Quinn Cozzens, a co-author of the report, said the alarming number of people in prison across Pennsylvania is because of the tough state laws.

“Most of the sentences — over 99 percent of them — are imposed mandatorily, meaning that there’s no discretion for judges to impose a lesser sentence,” the co-author said before the report was released.

The law center further exposed the racial disparities regarding these life sentences.

The report found the number of black people serving these harsh sentences was 18 times more than that of white inmates. Not only African-Americans, but Latinx prisoners are serving five times the rate of white people.

The 120-page report further stated that most of these people were given life sentences when they were 25 years or even younger than that.

“Young people are more likely to engage in harmful behavior. But, by the time they reach around the age of 40, people start to age out of that,” Cozzens said.

She added, “Many of them really want the opportunity to atone in whatever way they can for the harm that they caused. Often they want to provide guidance to other folks in their community, to either avoid the same mistakes that they made, or work toward bettering society in whatever way they can.”

Incarcerating people is costly itself; however, imprisoning inmates for life, costs a lot more.

The report states 70 percent of the inmates that are currently imprisoned for life without parole in Pennsylvania are over 40 years of age and half of them are over 50 years.

Keeping elderly prisoners is expensive and that it currently costs Pennsylvania an estimated $86 million per year to look after these inmates.

The prison population of the United States increased dramatically from about 12,000 in 1992 to over 53,000 today. The country currently holds to more than 20 percent of the world’s prisoners.

Similarly, the prison population in the state also increased from 500 people in 1970s to 5,000 in 2017 and the number of inmates who were sentenced to life without parole increased by 40 percent between 2003 and 2016.

“Life without the possibility of parole is a senseless punishment. It ignores the fact that people change, sometimes profoundly. Why would we decide when someone is 15 or 20 or 25 who they are going to be when they’re 45 or 50? Why not just put off that decision and give the parole board the opportunity to discover who they become?” said David Menschel, an Oregon-based criminal defense attorney and activist.

The report also detailed that many of these inmates didn’t actually intent to take someone’s life. Life without parole is commonly set aside for serious crimes like murder and violent sexual offenses. But in many states, like Pennsylvania, the sentence can be imposed on offenders who had no intention of killing a person, they may have been accomplices who weren’t even aware that the offender intended to take away someone’s life. These people are charged under so-called “felony murder” doctrines.

According to the report, almost one-quarter of people with life-without-parole sentences in Pennsylvania belonged to this group ? which means they’ve been kept in prison without parole even though they did not intend to kill someone.

Banner/Thumbnail Credits: Pexels

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