[Pnews] A Way Out - Abolishing Death By Incarceration in Pennsylvania

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Sep 18 17:10:52 EDT 2018


  Abolishing Death By Incarceration in Pennsylvania – Abolitionist Law

September 18, 2018 


*New Data: Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Lead the Nation and World in 
Life Without Parole Sentences*

*/Comprehensive Study Shows that Life Without Parole Sentences in 
Pennsylvania are Imposed on the Young with Alarming Racial Disparities/*

(Pittsburgh, PA) Philadelphia County has 2,694 people serving life 
without parole sentences (LWOP), which is more than any other county in 
the United States and far more than any other country in the world, 
according to a new data analysis released today by the Abolitionist Law 
Center. /A/ /Way Out: Abolishing Death By Incarceration in Pennsylvania 
/[Full Report 
[Abridged Report 
found Pennsylvania has 5,346 people serving LWOP, making the state a 
national leader in the use of the punishment; only Florida, with twice 
the population, has more people serving LWOP. State Representative Jason 
Dawkins and State Senator Sharif Street have filed legislation 
that would allow parole eligibility for all lifers after 15 years of 

The report refers to life without parole as “Death by Incarceration” 
(DBI). Key findings include:

  * Most of the people serving DBI were convicted and sentenced when
    they were 25 or younger, a period of life when brain development and
    maturation remains ongoing, according to recent neuroscientific

  * More than 70 percent of those serving DBI are over 40 and nearly
    half (2,377 people) are over 50. The practice continues even though
    research shows that criminal activity drops significantly after age
    40 and despite the fact that locking up a person over 55 is two to
    three times more expensive.

  *   Black Pennsylvanians are serving DBI at a rate */_more than 18
    times higher_/* than that of their white counterparts. Out of
    Philadelphia’s 2,694 people serving DBI, 84 percent are Black. In
    Allegheny County, 13 percent of the county’s residents are Black,
    but constitute 76 percent of those serving DBI sentences (409 out of
    541 people).

“This report presents a definitive portrait of a punishment that is 
archaic, cruel, unjustified, and indefensible,” said Bret Grote, Legal 
Director of the Abolitionist Law Center and co-author of the report. 
“Death by incarceration sentences do not keep the public safer. The 
human and economic costs are staggering and growing by the year, as 
thousands of aging, rehabilitated men and women are locked away 
needlessly. Fortunately, there is also a rapidly growing movement 
determined to make parole eligibility for all lifers a reality.”

In all cases involving defendants 18 years of age or older, Pennsylvania 
law does not allow for individualized consideration of a defendant’s 
circumstances; instead it mandates automatic DBI sentences to many who 
never actually killed or intended to kill anyone. As the report states, 
DBI is “a failed policy predicated upon the fallacy that the trajectory 
of a person’s life – including their capacity for rehabilitation, 
transformation, and redemption – can be accurately predicted at the time 
of sentencing.”

Avis Lee is an example of a person serving a DBI sentence because none 
of the particulars of her case were taken into consideration at 
sentencing – and may have made a difference. Ms. Lee has served 38 years 
of a DBI sentence due to a robbery committed by her brother that 
tragically went wrong and someone lost his life. Ms. Lee was only 18 
years old and had been told by her brother to serve as a look out during 
a robbery. Ms. Lee had turned to drugs and alcohol after a childhood 
riddled with sexual abuse, violence, poverty, and the death of her 
mother. After the shooting, she flagged down a bus and told the driver a 
man was injured. For more than 25 years, she has had no disciplinary 
infractions in prison. Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Superior 
Court agreed to hear her claim that her mandatory life sentence was 
disproportionate because of her youth. There is hope for Ms. Lee, though 
not many others.

The Philadelphia DA’s Office is considering reviewing certain cases of 
excessive sentences, including mandatory life without parole sentences, 
and will pursue a lesser sentence when legally viable. The trend toward 
electing reform-oriented, less punitive district attorneys across the 
country could lead to similar efforts at sentence review being 
implemented in DA offices on a national scale.


The Abolitionist Law Center is a public interest law firm inspired by 
the struggle of political and politicized prisoners, and organized for 
the purpose of abolishing class and race based mass incarceration in the 
United States. http://abolitionistlawcenter.org/ 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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