Poll: Should Pennsylvania reconsider life in prison without parole?

A Jail Cell

A Jail Cell

In their final weeks of session, Pennsylvania lawmakers could decide on a moral challenging bill that would change the law to extend parole eligibility to those who are sentenced to life imprisonment.

PA Rep. Jason Dawkins of Philadelphia, who is spearheading House Bill 2135 “Parole Eligibility Expansion for Life Sentences,” said more than 5,000 people in the Commonwealth have been sentenced to die in prison. According to a legislative memo, Dawkins wrote, “Few other nations authorize life without parole. Only three European nations have laws permitting life sentences for which the only mechanism for release is executive clemency. There may be as few as 100 inmates serving life without parole in Europe. Additionally, many countries in Latin America and Asia do not have life without parole as part of their penal code. Even among those countries that do impose life without prison, the United States does so far more often than any other. Pennsylvania had the second highest life without parole population in the nation as of 2008.”

“All life sentences in Pennsylvania are imposed without the possibility of parole,” Dawkins wrote. “This means that individuals sentenced to life imprisonment may not be considered for parole, no matter how much they have reformed themselves and no matter how unlikely they are to reoffend. Those sentenced to life without parole in Pennsylvania also have no chance at release when they grow so ill or elderly they pose little to no risk to the public. Not only does this represent an injustice to an individual who is a model inmate despite having no chance at life outside of prison, but it also creates an avoidable expense for the corrections system – and the taxpayers who fund it – by incarcerating individuals longer than necessary.”

House Bill 2135 permits an individual sentenced to life imprisonment under the laws of the Commonwealth to be released on parole after spending at least 15 years in prison. It also extends parole eligibility retroactively to those sentenced prior to the effective date of the legislation. Dawkins explained that his bill creates no right to parole, and it would not allow the most dangerous inmates to go free.

Should Pennsylvania reconsider life in prison without parole?