Why End Life Without Parole?

LWOP Affects Thousands of People in Massachusetts

Massachusetts follows Louisiana, per the Sentencing Project’s 2021 report, for having the second highest percentage of those incarcerated serving life without parole compared to our state’s overall prison population—14% of the prisoners in Massachusetts.

In Massachusetts, one out of every 6 prisoners is serving an LWOP sentence. Per the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC), over 1,000 men and women sentenced to LWOP, including 205 people who were sentenced for crimes committed before they turned 21. Nationwide the number of women inmates serving life without the possibility of parole has risen 43% since 2008.

Those incarcerated have family, friends, and communities affected.

In 1977, there were only 170 men and women serving LWOP in Massachusetts.

Current cost of housing a single prisoner is above $110,000 annually, which can triple for those persons who are elderly. The prison system is not designed or equipped to properly care for the old, sick, and dying. With 30% of those serving life being 55 years old or more, the elderly population amounts to more than 61,417 people in prisons.

LWOP Is Not What Most Survivors of Crime Want

Survivors say they do not want long sentences, but other kinds of justice.

– By a 2 to 1 margin, victims prefer that the criminal justice system focus on rehabilitation
– By a margin of 15 to 1, victims prefer increased investments in schools and education over prisons and jails
– By a margin of 10 to 1, victims prefer increased investments in job creation over prisons and jails
– By a margin of 7 to 1, victims prefer increased investments in mental health treatment over prisons and jails
– By a margin of 7 to 1, victims prefer increased investments in crime prevention over prisons and jails
– 6 in 10 victims prefer shorter prison sentences and more spending on prevention and rehabilitation
– By a margin of nearly 3 to 1, victims believe that prison makes people more likely to commit crimes than rehabilitate them

Long prison terms do not have a deterrent effect on crime, but divert resources from more effective investments in public safety.

LWOP Is Unjust

More than two-thirds of those serving life sentences are people of color. In Massachusetts – 34% Black; 41% White; 20% LatinX

Black people aged 18 to 20 are “sixteen times more likely than their White peers” to be sentenced to life imprisonment.

LWOP Is Slow Death Row

Per prison Legal News, LWOP prisoners are “plagued by substandard care and high rates of suicides.”

According to Columbia University’s Center for Justice, a LWOP population has “higher rates of chronic and communicable diseases, greater risk of mental illness, dementia, and other cognitive impairments.”

According to the Sentencing Project Mass Incarceration Report from January 2023, people age out of crime, and criminal careers typically end within 10 years. In no case, does an “increase in crime or in the murder rate” correlate with increases in the use of LWOP per research by the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition and the Norfolk Lifers’ Group in MA.

Further Reading

Crime Survivors Speak – The first ever national survey on victims’ views on safety and justice.
No End in Sight: America’s Enduring Reliance on Life Imprisonment A Sentencing Project report on why we must end life sentences.
The Case for Why Violent Offenders Deserve Parole by Joseph Dole, incarcerated writer.
Gordon Haas’ research on men criminally sentenced in Massachusetts by race, age, ethnicity to LWOP. For further research and writing by Haas and Dirk Greineder go to The Real Cost of Prisons Project.
Changing Perception, Changing the Law, What Mass lawmakers can learn from the battle to end death by incarceration across the country.

Life Without Parole: A Reconsideration – on the outgrowth of a policy opposing Life Without Parole.