LWOP

LIFE GOES ON: THE HISTORIC RISE IN LIFE SENTENCES IN AMERICA

While serious crime rates in the U.S. have been declining for the last 20 years, the number of prisoners serving life sentences has more than quadrupled since 1984. As documented in our new report, over 159,000 people were serving life sentences in 2012, with nearly 50,000 serving life without parole.

Key findings from the report include: One of every nine individuals in prison is serving a life sentence. The population of prisoners serving life without parole (LWOP) has risen more sharply than those with the possibility of parole: there has been a 22.2% increase in LWOP since just 2008. Approximately 10,000 lifers have been convicted of nonviolent offenses. Nearly half of lifers are African American and 1 in 6 are Latino.  More than 10,000 life-sentenced inmates have been convicted of crimes that occurred before they turned 18 and nearly 1 in 4 of them were sentenced to LWOP. More than 5,300 (3.4%) of the life-sentenced inmates are female.

Key findings from the report include:

  • One of every nine individuals in prison is serving a life sentence.
  • The population of prisoners serving life without parole (LWOP) has risen more sharply than those with the possibility of parole: there has been a 22.2% increase in LWOP since just 2008.
  • Approximately 10,000 lifers have been convicted of nonviolent offenses.
  • Nearly half of lifers are African American and 1 in 6 are Latino. 
  • More than 10,000 life-sentenced inmates have been convicted of crimes that occurred before they turned 18 and nearly 1 in 4 of them were sentenced to LWOP.
  • More than 5,300 (3.4%) of the life-sentenced inmates are female.
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thinkprogress.org
Possession Of A Crack Pipe, And Other Small Crimes That Earned Thousands Of U.S. Prisoners Life Without Parole

Life without parole is the harshest U.S. sentence short of death. But thousands are living with that punishment for nonviolent offenses, mostly drug and property crimes.

A man turns himself in when he heard he was wanted for questioning on a drug deal that never went through winds up in prison for life without possibility of parole because he wouldn’t make a plea bargain. Another man steals a wallet and is serving out a life sentence. 

Only in America: 16-Year-Old Locked Up for the Rest of His Life

Mar. 26 2014

Juwan Wickware wasn’t the shooter. But he and more than 2,500 others nationwide will enter prison as teenagers, grow into adults, and die – all behind bars.

This is not right. The sentence must fit the crime, and we cannot throw away kids’ lives.

Here’s Juwan’s story: When he was 16, he and another young kid robbed a pizza deliveryman. Both kids were armed with guns. Tragically, his friend shot and killed the man. Although this was Juwan’s first offense, and despite a documented learning disability, troubled home environment, and a psychological evaluation concluding that Juwan could be rehabilitated, the judge sentenced Juwan to life in prison with no possibility of parole (LWOP). The boy who pulled the trigger was acquitted because a witness could not identify him.

Juwan is one of over 350 people serving this sentence in Michigan alone—the second highest number among states in the U.S. Today, the ACLU is representing thirty-two of these Michigan prisoners in a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a Washington, D.C.-based tribunal charged with examining allegations of human rights abuses committed by members of the Organization of American States, which includes the United States.

Our petition argues that human rights laws prohibit anyone from being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes they commit as children. Kids are still growing. Throwing away the duration of their lives does not make any sense. Any punishment kids do receive should reflect their unique capacity for rehabilitation.

In recent years, the Supreme Court has begun to recognize the cruel and unusual nature of sentencing kids to be behind bars until they die, and has taken significant steps towards ending the practice. In Graham v. Florida(2010) the Court held that life-without-parole sentences for non-homicide offenses committed by persons below the age of eighteen are unconstitutional, and in Miller v. Alabama two years later, banned mandatory life without parole sentences for children who commit homicide offenses. Following the Supreme Court’s lead, some states have passed laws eliminating life without parole sentences for children, and supreme courts in states like Massachusetts and Illinois have retroactively and proactively banned the punishment for kids.

But because Miller and Graham did not categorically ban the practice, life without parole sentences for kids are still allowed in “rare” cases. This means that in 2014, Americans may still be sentenced to die in prison for crimes they commit as children. Forty-four states still allow for the punishment. In Michigan alone, since the Court’s 2012 ruling in Miller, two children, including Juwan, have been sentenced to life without parole. Moreover, a number of states, including Michigan, have refused to apply Miller retroactively, meaning that thousands of individuals convicted of crimes committed when they were children will languish behind bars until they die, regardless of whether they grow into mature adults or are rehabilitated.

At today’s hearing, Congressman John Conyers, ACLU attorney Deborah LaBelle, and former Michigan State Court Judge, the Honorable Fred Mester, will urge the U.S. Government and State of Michigan to take immediate steps to change this sad state of affairs by adopting measures to ban life-without-parole sentences for children in all circumstances, allow all individuals presently serving the sentence a meaningful opportunity for review, and examine racial disparities in the imposition of these extreme sentences.

The U.S. remains the only country in the world that imposes LWOP on children. The international community has long recognized that people who committed crimes as children deserve a second chance. It’s time for the U.S. to follow suit.

James Holmes gets sentenced to LWOP

James Holmes was sentenced to life without parole today by a jury at a Colorado courthouse.

The jury deliberated for just under 7 hours.

In order for Holmes to have received the death penalty, the jury – comprised of 9 women and 3 men – would have had to all agree on death as the punishment for Holmes.

LWOP [life without parole], more than any other form of incarceration, imposes a permanent disruption on the marginal and minority communities. It permanently hardens the psychological degradation of distressed minority communities by conveying the message that offenders from these communities are distinctly irredeemable: they must be locked up forever because they could never change.
—  Life Without Parole: America’s New Death Penalty? Ed. Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. and Austin Sarat