Life without Parole: America's New Death Penalty?

Life without Parole: America's New Death Penalty?

Life without Parole: America's New Death Penalty?

Life without Parole: America's New Death Penalty?


Is life without parole the perfect compromise to the death penalty? Or is it as ethically fraught as capital punishment? This comprehensive, interdisciplinary anthology treats life without parole as "the new death penalty." Editors Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. and Austin Sarat bring together original work by prominent scholars in an effort to better understand the growth of life without parole and its social, cultural, political, and legal meanings. What justifies the turn to life imprisonment? How should we understand the fact that this penalty is used disproportionately against racial minorities? What are the most promising avenues for limiting, reforming, or eliminating life without parole sentences in the United States? Contributors explore the structure of life without parole sentences and the impact they have on prisoners, where the penalty fits in modern theories of punishment, and prospects for (as well as challenges to) reform.


Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., and Austin Sarat

Death, in its finality, differs more from life imprisonment
than a 100-year prison term differs from one of only a year
or two.

—Justice Stewart, Woodson v. North Carolina

Life without parole is a very strange sentence when you think
about it. the punishment seems either too much or too little. If
a sadistic or extraordinarily cold, callous killer deserves to die,
then why not kill him? But if we are going to keep the killer
alive when we could otherwise execute him, why strip him of
all hope?

—Robert Blecker, quoted in Adam Liptak, “Serving Life with
No Chance of Redemption,” New York Times, October 5, 2005

Writing in October 2005, New York Times reporter Adam Liptak observed that “in just the last 30 years, the United States has created something never before seen in its history and unheard of around the globe: a booming population of prisoners whose only way out of prison is likely to be inside a coffin…. Driven by tougher laws and political pressure on governors and parole boards, thousands of lifers are going into prisons each year, and in many states only a few are ever coming out, even in cases where judges and prosecutors did not intend to put them away forever.” in fact, in every decade over the last third of the 20th century, at least eight states joined the list of those authorizing sentences of life without parole (LWOP) as part of their criminal code (see figure I.1).

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