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Source — The Huffington Post

News

USA: Pennsylvania is sentencing people to die in prison at an alarming rate

A new report from the Abolitionist Law Center “presents a definitive portrait of a punishment that is archaic, cruel, unjustified, and indefensible,” its co-author says.

The state of Pennsylvania is using a particularly harsh form of punishment all too frequently: sentencing people to life in prison without the possibility of parole ― or, as critics call it, “death by incarceration,” according to a new report.

“A Way Out: Abolishing Death By Incarceration in Pennsylvania,” a detailed report published this week, finds that there are 5,346 people serving out life sentences without parole in Pennsylvania. Only Florida ― a state with roughly twice the population and twice the number of people in prison ― has more people currently serving such sentences.

In Philadelphia County alone, 2,694 people are serving life sentences without parole ― more than in any other U.S. county and any single country in the world. More than 1 in 10 people in the U.S. serving out such sentences are in Pennsylvania.

The report by the Pittsburgh-based Abolitionist Law Center, which seeks to end class- and race-based mass incarceration in the U.S., also uncovered alarming racial disparities regarding these sentences. Black people in Pennsylvania are serving out life sentences without parole at 18 times the rate white people are. Latinx people are serving out these sentences at a rate five times that of whites.

In Philadelphia, 1 in every 294 black residents is serving a sentence that means spending the remainder of their life permanently caged.

Young people disproportionately receive life sentences, the report notes, as most lifers were convicted and sentenced when they were 25 years old or younger. This is particularly disturbing because scientific research suggests that the adolescent brain continues to develop into the mid-20s ― something the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized by considering juveniles less culpable than adults for crimes and by banning the mandatory sentencing of juveniles to life without parole for crimes other than homicide.

Incarcerating people is financially costly, but incarcerating them for the vast majority of their lives raises those costs even higher, according to the report. In Pennsylvania, more than 70 percent of people currently serving life sentences without parole are over 40 and nearly half of them are over 50 ― meaning that incarcerating elderly inmates costs the state an estimated $86 million per year.

“This report presents a definitive portrait of a punishment that is archaic, cruel, unjustified, and indefensible,” said Bret Grote, co-author of the report and legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center.

*“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.” *

Over the last several decades, there has been a dramatic growth in the inmate population in the U.S. ― a 500 percent surge since the 1980s. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. is now home to more than 20 percent of the world’s prisoners. And even when not caged, 1 in every 37 U.S. adults is under some form of correctional supervision.

Concurrently, the number of people serving life-without-parole sentences in the United States has expanded dramatically, from about 12,000 in 1992 to over 53,000 today. Pennsylvania, too, saw its population of prisoners who are serving out the sentence explode, from fewer than 500 people in the 1970s to more than 5,000 in 2017. And while the state saw a 21 percent decline in violent crime between 2003 and 2015, the population of people sentenced to life without parole rose by 40 percent between 2003 and 2016.

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