Skip navigation

A Way Out: Abolishing Death by Incarceration in Pennsylvania, Abolitionist Law Center, 2018

Download original document:
Brief thumbnail
This text is machine-read, and may contain errors. Check the original document to verify accuracy.
ABOLISHING
DEATH BY INCARCERATION
IN PENNSYLVANIA

1

A Report on
Life-Without-Parole
Sentences

ABOLITIONIST
LAW
CENTER

A Way Out
ABOLISHING DEATH BY INCARCERATION
IN PENNSYLVANIA
A Report On Life-Without-Parole Sentences
3

Abolitionist Law Center
REPORT AUTHORS

Quinn Cozzens, ALC Staff Attorney
Bret Grote, ALC Legal Director

4

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

T

his project has benefited from the feedback and

The movement organizations that we are a part of and

support of many. A special note of gratitude to the

accountable to – the Coalition to Abolish Death By

staff of the Abolitionist Law Center: Lauren Johnson, Robert

Incarceration, Lets Get Free-Women and Trans Prisoner

Saleem Holbrook, Dustin McDaniel, and Jamelia Morgan.

Defense Committee, Human Rights Coalition, Fight for Lifers,

Your assistance, insight, dedication, and friendship help

Decarcerate PA, Right to Redemption – we offer this report

ensure that this work is as rewarding as it is challenging –

as a modest contribution toward a new paradigm of justice,

and we all know how challenging it is.

toward parole eligibility for all lifers, and in service of those
family members and friends of the incarcerated who will

To the Amistad Law Project – our movement-lawyering

fight with every last breath to bring their loved ones home.

family – you hold us down and push us forward, giving
us inexhaustible reasons to come to Philadelphia. Kris

Vital Projects Fund provided generous support for this work,

Henderson, Nikki Grant, Kempis Ghani Songster, and Sean

believes in a future where life-without-parole is a relic of the

Damon, your comradeship and selfless commitment to

past, and has shown a commitment to justice that is deep,

justice and liberation are stronger than any obstacle in our

informed, and strategic. We thank you for that.

path.

5

6

DEDICATION

T

o the more than 5,300 people serving life-without-

To those who have suffered the immeasurable grief and

parole sentences in Pennsylvania, condemned to

pain of losing a loved one to violence: we seek a change

“death-by-incarceration”, who survive a daily assault upon

that will address the root causes of such devastation. We

your humanity: you are not forgotten. Whether you have

gently offer this work as an alternative to those who pursue

committed yourself to building the movement for justice and

a perpetual condemnation that all too often stands in the

liberation or are still finding your way there, accept this report

way of healing. Community, justice, and healing require us to

as a humble offering – building off the work of lifers and their

give all of ourselves and aspire to be more – individually and

families – to help in a collective endeavor to do nothing less

collectively – than we have yet become. We are committed

than totally transform ourselves and our society.

to walking this path with you.
To those who have experienced both sides of this painful
dynamic, those who have harmed and been harmed, who
have persevered and won a hard-earned wisdom, and who
believe in second-chances and redemption more than ever:
may your example light the way ahead.

7

8

TABLE OF
CONTENTS
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

11
I. THE RISE OF CAPTIVITY
UNTIL DEATH

27
II. ILLEGITIMATE
DBI’s Bankrupt Policy Justifications

41
III. IN THEIR OWN WORDS

53
IV. ABOLITIONIST HORIZONS
Strategies and Recommendations for
Abolishing Death By Incarceration

73
APPENDIX

87

9

10

NOTE ON TERMINOLOGY

T

hroughout this report we use the term Death By

invokes the social death experienced by the incarcerated,

Incarceration (DBI) when referring to life-without-

as they are subject to degraded legal status, diminished

parole (LWOP) sentences. We do this for several reasons.

rights, excluded from social and political life, tracked with an

First, it is the preferential term selected by incarcerated

“inmate number” like a piece of inventory, and warehoused

people that we work with who are serving these sentences,

for decades in this subjugated status. Finally, although DBI

and we are a movement-lawyering organization that is

in this report is used to refer to LWOP sentences, the DBI

accountable to the movements we work with. Second,

label indicates that our concern is not merely with LWOP

it focuses on the ultimate fact of the sentence, which is

sentences, but inclusive of other term-of-years sentences

that the only way it ends, barring extraordinary relief from

that condemn a person to die in prison.

a court or the Board of Pardons, is with death. Third, DBI

11

12

READING TIMES, OCTOBER 13, 1924

13

14

EXECUTIVE
SUMMARY
Decarceration Through
Redemption:
Ending Permanent Punishment
in Pennsylvania

Death-by-incarceration sentences are perhaps the most
distinctive and emblematic feature of the United States’
system of mass incarceration, with Pennsylvania staking a
claim as a national leader in the practice of condemning
people to die in prison and exhibiting its most pernicious
features. Philadelphia is the DBI capital of the world.
Pennsylvania itself is an international and national leader in
DBI sentencing. The racial disparities in DBI sentencing in
the state are stark evidence of systemic discrimination. DBI
sentences are overwhelmingly imposed on teenagers and
young adults, but increasingly are being served by aging
and elderly prisoners still being punished for acts committed
decades ago. The legal framework is unforgiving, allowing
for no mitigation, no lesser sentence, and no hope of release
short of commutation, which has become increasingly rare
just as it has become increasingly necessary to address the
extraordinary number of rehabilitated people serving a DBI
sentence. The inadequate policy justifications for this state of
affairs renders this a punishment lacking in legitimacy, one
that we need to bring to an end.

15

Pennsylvania in Context

O

ver the last 25 years, the number of people serving

Despite a 21% decline in violent crime between 2003 and

life-without-parole, or death-by-incarceration (DBI),

2015, Pennsylvania’s population of people sentenced to DBI

sentences in the United States has exploded from 12,453

has risen by 40% between 2003 and 2016.6 Pennsylvania

people in 19921 to over 53,000 people today2—10% of whom

ranks near the top of every measure of DBI sentences across

are incarcerated in Pennsylvania. With over 5,300 people

the country.

3

sentenced to DBI and one of the highest per capita DBI-

in the world.5

More than 1 in 10 people serving DBI
sentences in the United States are
in Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania
has two-and-a-half times the rate
of people serving DBI than the
aggregate national rate

In 1974, fewer than 500 people were serving DBI sentences

(42 DBI sentences per 100,000 people in Pennsylvania

in Pennsylvania. As of September 2017, 5,346 people are

vs. 17 per 100,000 nationally).7 Only Florida—with twice

serving death-by-incarceration sentences in Pennsylvania.

the population and twice as many people incarcerated as

sentencing rates in the country, Pennsylvania stakes a
strong claim as the U.S. and world leader in this distinctively
harsh form of punishment and permanent exclusion of its
citizens. Philadelphia, with nearly 2,700 people serving DBI
sentences, is the world’s leading jurisdiction in sentencing
people to die in prison—more than any county or parish in
the United States4 and far more than any individual country

16

Pennsylvania—has more people serving DBI sentences.

Philadelphia

Death-By-Incarceration
Capital of the World

P

Total DBI Sentenced Population

hiladelphia County alone has 2,694 people sentenced
to death-by-incarceration, which comprises just

over 50% of those sentenced to DBI in Pennsylvania and

8,919

is the highest total of any county or parish in the country.
More people serving DBI sentences were convicted in

5,090

Philadelphia than 45 states in the U.S.

4,875

3,804

2,694
1,609

Florida

California

Louisiana

Michigan Philadelphia Illinois

A Question of Racial Justice
In Philadelphia, one of every 294 Black residents is serving

Racial Disparity:
DBI Sentences Per 100,000 People

people).

Black

253

White

14

Latinx

66

Other

L

a sentence of death-by-incarceration (340 per 100,000

7

Philadelphia sentences Black people
to death-by-incarceration at a rate
higher than the overall incarceration
rates of 90% countries and territories
in the world.8

ike most measures of the criminal legal system, death-

In Allegheny County, 13% of the county’s residents are Black,

by-incarceration sentences disproportionately impact

but 76% of those serving DBI sentences are Black (253

communities of color.

per 100,000). White residents make up 80% of Allegheny

Black Pennsylvanians are serving
death-by-incarceration sentences at
a rate more than 18-times higher than
that of White Pennsylvanians.

County’s population, but 24%) of people sentenced to DBI

Latinx Pennsylvanians are serving DBI sentences at a rate
5-times higher than White Pennsylvanians. Racial disparities
in DBI sentences are even more pronounced than among
the overall Pennsylvania prison population, in which 47% of
those incarcerated are Black, compared to 11% of the state’s
population. Of those serving DBI sentences, however, 65%
are Black while 25% are White.

from the county (13 per 100,000).

17
Racial disparities persist in counties with relatively
homogenous racial compositions. In Fayette County, for
example, only 5% of the population is Black, but 38% of
people serving DBI sentences are Black (253 per 100,000),
while 93% of the population is White and 62% of people
sentenced to DBI are White (21 per 100,000). Similarly, in
Mercer County, 6% of the population is Black, but 47% of
people sentenced to DBI are Black (134 per 100,000), while
91% of the population is White and 53% of people serving
DBI are White (10 per 100,000).

Women Sentenced to Die in Prison

P

ennsylvania has 201 women incarcerated under

sentences, they are still pronounced. Out of 201 women

death-by-incarceration sentences, representing almost

sentenced to DBI, 43% are Black, 49% are White, 5% are

4% of those serving DBI sentences in the state. Although
racial disparities are less stark among women serving DBI

Latina, and 2.5% are of other races.

Sentencing the Young
and Incarcerating the Aging

C

onsistent with data on most criminal offenses,9 most

The average current age of people serving DBI sentences

people serving DBI sentences in the Pennsylvania

is 48 years old. Today, the average person serving DBI in

Department of Corrections (DOC) were convicted and

Pennsylvania is 15 years older than the average person

sentenced when they were 25 years-old or younger. 25% of

serving DBI in 1980. Over 70% of those currently serving

those serving DBI entered the DOC between the ages of 18

DBI sentences are at least 40 years old and 45% are at least

and 21. The age of entry into the DOC among people serving

50 years old. 21% of people serving DBI are 60 or older. In

DBI steadily decreases after the age of 25. Roughly 20%

Pennsylvania, only 2.5% of people who were released after

were between the ages of 26 and 30, while only 18% were

their life sentences were commuted between 1933-2005

between the ages of 31 and 40.

were ever reincarcerated for a new criminal conviction.11 For

10

those whose sentences were commuted when they were at
least 50 years old, only one out of 99 was reincarcerated for
any reason.12

Costs of DBI Sentences
18

I

ncarceration is costly. In Pennsylvania, the cost of DOC

inflation and adjusting for age-related cost increases, the

operations increased from $94 million in 1980 to $1.7

total cost of incarcerating a person who began serving a DBI

billion in 2010.13 With people serving DBI sentences growing

sentence in 2015 at age 25 (the median age of commitment

increasingly older and spending decades in prison, the

to the DOC) until their death will be over $3.6 million.15

economic costs of DBI sentences will only continue to rise.

Between 2010 and 2016, an average of 128 people per year

Due primarily to increased healthcare costs associated

began serving sentences in the DOC. If an average of 128

with age, it costs between two- and three-times more to

people sentenced to DBI are committed to the DOC per

incarcerate an elderly person than the average person in

year, every year Pennsylvania commits to spend roughly

prison. Using an estimate of $47,680 for the annual cost to

$460 million to ensure that those sentenced to DBI die in

incarcerate a person in Pennsylvania, assuming 2% annual

prison.

No Way Out

The False Hope
of Commutation

14

A

side from having a conviction overturned or death

Since Tom Ridge took office as governor in 1995, only 8

itself, commutation is currently the only avenue by

DBI sentences have been commuted. Ridge granted zero.

which a person serving death-by-incarceration may be

During Governor Corbett’s term in office from 2011-2014, the

released from prison in Pennsylvania. While commutation

Board of Pardons did not even recommend that a single

was used somewhat regularly through the 1970s and

DBI sentence be commuted. Even among ostensibly liberal

steadily declined in the 1980s, its use has been virtually non-

regimes, commutation has been rare, especially considering

existent since the 1990s. During the entire 1970s, 203 people

the ever-increasing population of people serving DBI. During

had their life sentences commuted and were released—an

Ed Rendell’s 8 years in office, only 5 DBI sentences were

average of over 20 per year.

commuted. Since entering office in 2015, Governor Wolf has
only granted two commutations.

The Rising Death Toll

M

eanwhile, the number of people who have died while
serving a DBI sentence is growing rapidly. In the

1980s, an average of 6.8 people per year died serving a DBI
sentence. During the 1990s, that number had risen to 16.4
deaths per year, and in the 2000s an average of 28.9 people
died per year. Between 2010-2016, an average of 38 people
per year have died serving a DBI sentence. In all, 787 people
died serving a DBI sentence between 1980-2016.

Decade

Deaths

Per Year

1980s

68

6.8

1990s

164

16.4

2000s

289

28.9

2010-2016

266

38

Total

787

21.3

Deaths of People Serving DBI in PA
800
700
600
500
400
300
200
100
0

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

19

The Case for Parole Eligibility

C

losing off parole eligibility for the entirety of a person’s

elderly prisoners who present virtually no public safety risk

natural life is a failed policy predicated upon the

languish in prisons at tremendous social and fiscal expense.

fallacy that the trajectory of a person’s life – including their
capacity for rehabilitation, transformation, and redemption

The case for parole eligibility for people serving DBI

– can be accurately predicted at the time of sentencing. In

sentences is supported by unassailable policy justifications.

Pennsylvania, the prediction that a person convicted of first

DBI is a failed policy on its own terms, and the alternative –

or second degree murder should never be released from

parole eligibility – possesses well-established merits. DBI

prison is not even made at sentencing. Instead, it is set in

sentences are unnecessary and harmful, particularly in the

stone by statute and imposed mandatorily based on the

following ways:

conviction without regard to any mitigating circumstances,
the individual’s role in the offense, or their prospects for
change.

•	 DBI is not necessary to ensure or increase

public safety. Research has consistently shown that
the strongest predictor for whether a person will commit

As demonstrated in Section III of this report, narratives

future criminal offenses is age. As people age and mature

of maturity and transformation are common among the

they are less likely to re-offend and they are especially

more than 5,300 serving DBI sentences in Pennsylvania. By

unlikely to commit a further homicide offense. Aging

disregarding this basic reality, the mandatory sentencing

and elderly incarcerated people – an increasingly large

scheme for imposition of DBI sentences in Pennsylvania has

cohort in Pennsylvania – pose little risk to public safety if

led to a situation where increasing numbers of aging and

released.

•	 DBI is a waste of resources. The costs of

•	 DBI harms the incarcerated, their families, and

incarcerating a permanent, ever-growing number of

their communities. By permanently removing people

people sentenced to DBI is a waste of resources, putting

from their communities, DBI sentences deprive them and

strain on the state budget by needlessly wasting money

their families of hope and fail to provide incentives for

to confine people who are no longer a risk to the public.

rehabilitation and transformation. Family members pay

This money could instead be spent on public education,

a high emotional and economic cost in supporting their

medical and mental health services, housing, and other

loved ones behind bars. The communities most targeted

social services that are necessary for creating safe and

by violence lose out on the experience and guidance of

healthy communities.

rehabilitated elders who are prevented from returning to
their communities where many would be incredible assets

•	 DBI does not serve victims. The permanent
retribution of DBI sentences, while an understandable

with invaluable life experiences and a commitment to
making amends for harms they have caused.

response to the devastating loss wrought by homicide,

20

does not help victims heal. Further, victim attitudes are

•	 Parole eligibility is the smart policy. Ending DBI

not as punitive as they are often portrayed to be. Many

allows the parole board to do what it was created to

support policy responses that emphasize preventing

do: assess whether an incarcerated person is ready for

re-offending and addressing the causes of crime and

release. The determination that a person will never be

violence over increased punishment. And a growing

capable of release cannot be realistically made at the time

number of people who have lost loved ones to violence

of sentencing; allowing for parole eligibility remedies this

are raising their voices in support of second chances and

deficiency by creating the potential for eventual release

restorative justice.

subject to the safeguards of the parole system.

The Way Forward

W

Redemption and Restoration
to the Community

hile politicians and prosecutors frequently trumpet

From the perspective of those like Lorraine Haw, who is a

the narrative that harsh sentences like DBI are both

member of the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration

desired by victims’ families and best serve victims, victims

and has lost family members to both homicide and death-

themselves generally desire to see more rehabilitative and

by-incarceration, the retributive logic of DBI sentences is not

preventative services for those who commit harm rather

simply wrong because it is applied unfairly or too broadly;

than harsh punishments, and a criminal legal system that

instead, it is wrong because retribution and punishment

focuses primarily on retribution and punishing the offender

are morally inferior and less desirable than redemption and

does not address what survivors and families need to heal

healing. In her own words:

16

from the trauma they experience.

17

	 If the courts had honored my wishes initially, the person who
DBI sentences, by permanently banishing the person who

murdered my brother would be dead. But I’m glad he isn’t.

committed the homicide from social life and restoration to

Today, I’d like to have a dialogue with the person who took

the community, foreclose the possibility of the meaningful

my brother’s life. I want justice that recognizes the possibility

atonement and redemption that embodies recognition of the

of transformation and healing; not just for those who have

harm caused. Many victims’ family members want precisely

committed harm, but for those of us who have been harmed,

this: that the person who took their loved one’s life recognize

who have survived violence, or lost our loved ones to

the immensity of the loss and change their own life to serve

violence.18

others and be a force for positive change in the world.

The system of mass incarceration, with DBI sentences as

to social death. Rehabilitation, redemption, restoration to the

its exemplar and anchor, both fails on its own terms and is

community, identifying and addressing the root causes of

totally refuted by the lived experience of redemption and

violence and harm – these are the ways forward.

transformation by those subjected to permanent exclusion,

Speaking for Themselves

T

o end DBI sentences we need to recognize that

Many others expressed their desire to make their wrongs

the fundamental fallacy of such punishment is the

“more right” and attempt to atone for harms that they

negation of the humanity of the person who has committed

caused. Oscar Cintora wrote: “There are many people

harm. The perpetual criminalization, the permanent stigma,

serving this sentence (DBI) that are truly sorry and have

the fear and degradation that are attached to those serving

changed their lives, that only ask for one more chance to

DBI sentences are not rooted in the complex lives and

demonstrate our changes, and that we could be assets to our

personalities of those who have committed serious harm,

communities, could make amends, or try to make amends, in

including murder.

better ways from the outside.” Changa Asa Ramu expressed
similar thoughts: “We understand that we have a debt to

The transformation proposed in this report is rooted in

pay to society and are willing to take that responsibility.

the lived experiences of those who have walked the walk

Our communities and families need [our presence].” Kristin

and transformed their lives in spite of a DBI sentence that

Edmundson wrote: “I cannot change what happen although

“forswear[s] altogether the rehabilitative ideal.”19 Transitioning

I really wish I could, but I can try to make up for my mistakes

to a criminal legal system that centers redemption and

and the hurt I’ve caused. I would like people to know that I will

restoration to the community requires involving the

continue to strive and make myself a better person.”

incarcerated as full participants in asserting their humanity,
developing their capabilities and talents, and being

Sheena King expressed similar thoughts:

permitted to serve their families and communities.
	 DBI does not fix what’s broken in people or communities... You
For that reason, the heart of this report – the longest and

lock people up until they die and how does that bring back a

most important section – is Section III, constructed from the

loved one, or cause a person to see the error of their ways and

words of those serving DBI sentences. It demands to be read

change? How does it help a victim’s family to heal? People

– and re-read – in full. The hard-earned insight and vision

serving DBI have hurt entire communities – we need to be

expressed in this section animates this report and the goals

held accountable to help to fix it. We can’t in a cell.

of the movement to end DBI.
Felix Rosado also wrote about others serving DBI sentences,
Some excerpts:

writing that they are among the kindest, most caring, selfless,
resilient human beings I’ve ever known. They’ve been making a

Malakki Bolden described how those who are currently

positive difference in the lives of countless people for decades

serving DBI sentences are well-suited to carry out the work

to little fanfare, not for credit, not to impress a parole board—

of building communities and serving as positive influences:

but just because it’s the right thing to do. It’s about character

“Some of the best help and/or support for those right now

and purpose, and a higher sense of self that transcends walls,

struggling...is us. We have lived lives similar to them – we are

bars, labels and the dehumanization inherent in prisons—

them – and our examples of how to manage life’s ups and

despite prison.

downs can reach them like nothing else.”

21

Many people focused on the particular ability of those

desperately needed in this state. Healing and repair is

serving DBI sentences to inspire and produce positive

needed, not excessive punishment.

change for their communities on the outside if given the
opportunity. Phillip Ocampo wrote: “A lot of us serving these

Saadiq Palmer summarized many of the sentiments

sentences could do more good on the outside than in here and

expressed by other people serving DBI sentences:

should be given the chance to show that we could make a
difference in life on a positive level.” David Lee, who maintains

	 Life without parole is not a deterrent and it’s inhuman to

his innocence of the crime for which he was convicted,

keep somebody locked away for decades that has been

wrote: “I have spent over half of my life in prison for a crime I

rehabilitated. It’s cost effective to grant us parole. And most

did not commit, and all I want to do is positive work within and

of all we are the least likely to reoffend out of all offenses…

beyond my community.” He continued:

less than 1% of men and women serving DBI...reoffend after
release... Myself and the many men that I work with will be

22

	 I also talk to many DBI prisoners who have committed

agents for change. Changing the lives and direction of our

the acts they’re incarcerated for, and they just want

youth is paramount for all of us. We’ve lost children, family

an opportunity to redeem themselves. This is why the

and friends in our time inside. We care, we’re sorry for the

“Restorative Justice” concept is so vital, and something

harms we’ve caused.

Abolishing Death By Incarceration
in Pennsylvania

D

eath-By-Incarceration is more than a failed policy or

Identical legislation introduced by State Representative

a well-meaning yet excessive response to violence.

Jason Dawkins (HB 135) and State Senator Sharif Street

Instead,

(SB 942) would end life-without-parole in Pennsylvania by
establishing parole eligibility for all those serving DBI after

DBI is central to the system of mass
incarceration in Pennsylvania; a
material, institutional, and ideological
pillar of a regime of state violence
that systematically targets the
poor and communities of color. DBI
sentencing exemplifies the logic of
fear, vengeance, and social death that
underlie and sustain the institutions
of policing and prisons in this country.

15 years of incarceration. While this legislation is the optimal
approach to ending DBI sentences in Pennsylvania, its
passage will take years of patient, methodical, and strategic
organizing.
The situation of permanent imprisonment for more than
5,300 people in Pennsylvania is untenable. It does not have
to be this way. In the vast majority of the world, it is not. Even
within the U.S., Pennsylvania is an outlier, both in terms of
the absolute numbers of incarcerated people serving DBI
sentences and the proportion of people in state custody
serving DBI sentences.
The consequences of DBI sentencing extend far beyond the
prison walls. The total absence of redemptive opportunity

The final section of this report, Section IV, discusses a

hardens punitive attitudes in society by legitimating the

multi-strategy, movement-building approach to ending

most destructive and divisive impulses within people: fear,

DBI sentences and establishing parole eligibility for

vengeance, racism, and cruelty. Ultimately, the fight to

all in Pennsylvania that includes legislation, litigation,

abolish DBI sentences is a fight over what type of society we

commutation reform, and organizing.

want to live in, whether we will organize around values of
restoration and redemption and healing or continue down
the path of fear and stigma and vengeance.

23

1
Ashley Nellis, The Sentencing Project, Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life
Sentences in America 13 fig. 3 (2013).
2
Ashley Nellis, The Sentencing Project, Still Life: America’s Increasing Use of Life
and Long-Term Sentences 10 (2017).
3
Unless otherwise indicated, all data pertaining to DBI sentences in
Pennsylvania was obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
4
Inquiries directed to or data obtained from the Department of Corrections of
each state that holds more people serving DBI than Philadelphia confirmed
that no individual county or parish was responsible for more people serving
DBI sentences than Philadelphia. Orleans Parish, Louisiana has a higher per
capita rate at 274 DBI sentences per 100,000 people.
5
William W. Berry, Life-With-Hope Sentencing: The Argument for Replacing
Life-Without-Parole Sentences with Presumptive Life Sentences, 76 Ohio
St. L.J. 1051 (2015). The three countries outside of the U.S. with the most DBI
sentences have fewer than 150 people serving DBI sentences combined.
6
Nellis, Still Life, supra n. 2 at 21 Table 8.
7
Unless otherwise indicated, all data pertaining to DBI in jurisdictions other
than Pennsylvania was obtained from Nellis, Still Life, supra n. 2.
8
World Prison Brief, Institute for Criminal Policy Research
http://www.prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison_population_
rate?field_region_taxonomy_tid=All
9
See Jeffrey T. Ulmer and Darrell Steffensmeier, The Age and Crime
Relationship: Social Variation, Social Explanations, in The Nurture versus
Biosocial Debate in Criminology 377 (K. Beaver, B. Boutwell, and J.C. Barnes eds.
2014).

24

10
Data from the Department of Corrections reflects the age at which an
individual entered DOC, rather than their age at the time of the offense for
which they were convicted. Given the time between when a person is arrested
until they are ultimately convicted, most people were likely at least one year
younger at the time of their offense than when they were committed to DOC
custody.
11
Advisory Committee on Geriatric and Seriously Ill Inmates, Joint State
Government Committee of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania, A Report of the Advisory Committee on Geriatric and Seriously Ill
Inmates (2005).
12
Advisory Committee on Geriatric and Seriously Ill Inmates, Joint State
Government Committee of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania, A Report of the Advisory Committee on Geriatric and Seriously Ill
Inmates (2005).
13
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Costs & Population 2 (2011).
Available at: http://www.cor.pa.gov/About%20Us/Statistics/Documents/
Budget%20Documents/2011%20Cost%20and%20Population.pdf
14
The American Friends Service Committee, Aging in Prison, 4 (2017).
15
M. Kay Harris, The Price of Life Sentences.
16
Alliance for Safety and Justice, Crime Survivors Speak 16 (2016).
17
Danielle Sered, Vera Institute of Justice, Accounting for Violence: How to
Increase Safety and Break Our Failed Reliance on Mass Incarceration 11-14
(2017).
18
Lorraine Haw, My Brother’s Killer was sentenced to death, but I hope he is
allowed to live, Philadelphia Inquirer (April 4, 2018).
19
Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 74 (2010).

25

26

I. THE RISE
OF CAPTIVITY
UNTIL DEATH

Overview of
Death-By-Incarceration
Sentences in Pennsylvania
a shrinking number of countries to continue the use of

Sample of Life Sentences in Europe1:
Maximum Sentence Before Consideration
for Release

capital punishment,7 “what distinguishes the American
criminal justice system and brands it as distinctively harsh…
is the frequency with which it banishes its own citizens

Time
Served		

to cages for the duration of their lives.”8 With over 5,300

Country

people sentenced to DBI and one of the highest per

No Life
Sentences 	

Norway, Spain, Portugal

capita DBI-sentencing rates in the country, Pennsylvania

10 years		

Belgium

stakes a strong claim as the U.S. leader in this “distinctively

Austria, Germany,

harsh” form of punishment and permanent exclusion of its

*

15 years		

		Luxembourg, Switzerland

citizens. Philadelphia, with nearly 2,700 people serving DBI

20 years		

Czech Republic, Romania

sentences, is the world’s leading jurisdiction in sentencing

25 years		

Poland, Russia, Slovakia

people to die in prison—more than any county or parish in

26 years		

Lithuania

the United States and far more than any individual country

30 years		

Estonia

in the world.9 Since 1980, roughly 800 people have died

DBI Possible	

England and Wales, the Netherlands	

	

serving death-by-incarceration sentences in Pennsylvania

		 Includes sentences of life

prisons. That is roughly 800 more deaths than the number of

		

executions in Pennsylvania – 3 – over the same time period.10

I

*

with the possibility of parole

n 1992, 12,453 people were sentenced to death-by-

A global consensus against the imposition of DBI sentences

incarceration in the United States. Today, over 53,000

has emerged. 155 out of 193 United Nations member states

2

people are sentenced to death-by-incarceration—almost

prohibit DBI sentences.11 Aside from the U.S., which has

4% of the total incarcerated population serving sentences

more than 53,000 people serving DBI sentences and more

in state or federal custody. Given the rapid growth and

than 5,300 in Pennsylvania alone, the three countries with

prevalence of death-by-incarceration sentences in the

the most people serving DBI sentences have less than 150

United States and a growing global consensus that DBI

people sentenced to DBI combined.12 The Rome Statute

sentences are inhumane, DBI sentences may be “the

of the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose jurisdiction

distinctive American punishment.” Though the U.S.

typically includes genocide, war crimes, and crimes

holds 20% of the world’s incarcerated population but

against humanity, bans DBI sentences and mandates that

only 4% of the world’s overall population and is one of

all life sentences are reviewed after 25 years.13 In Europe,

3

4

5

6

27

courts in Germany, France, and Italy found DBI sentences

also prohibits any form of life sentence.17 DBI sentences are

unconstitutional.14 Austria, Germany, Luxemburg, and

permitted, but extremely rare, in the Netherlands and the

Switzerland require individuals with life sentences to be

United Kingdom (England and Wales).18 In the rest of the

considered for release after serving 15 years, while Belgium

Americas, DBI sentences and life-with-parole sentences are

requires consideration for release after 10 years. Portugal

widely regarded as incompatible with human rights ideals.19

banned all life sentences (including those with the possibility

Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, El Salvador, Peru, and Mexico

of parole) in 1976 and Spain followed suit in 1978. Norway

have banned all forms of life sentences.20

Pennsylvania

A National Leader in
Death-By-Incarceration

P

since before the 1970s.21 Today, every state except Alaska

serving DBI than the aggregate national
rate of 17 per 100,000.26 Only Florida—with twice

has a DBI sentence on the books.22 In 1941, Pennsylvania’s

the population and twice as many people incarcerated as

legislature created a state-wide parole board with the

Pennsylvania—has more people serving DBI sentences.

exclusive power to grant parole to individuals sentenced

While 3.6% of the overall U.S. prison population is serving

to terms of imprisonment. However, the legislature

DBI, 10.5% of people incarcerated in Pennsylvania are serving

excluded those sentenced to life imprisonment from being

DBI sentences. Only Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Delaware

considered for parole, ensuring that all life sentences are

have a greater portion of their prison population serving DBI,

DBI sentences.23 Thus, aside from those sentenced to a

and Pennsylvania has sentenced the fifth-highest proportion

maximum term of life imprisonment for offenses committed

of people serving DBI sentences relative to the overall state

while they were juveniles,24 all people serving life terms are

population. Illinois and Ohio—states similar to Pennsylvania

serving death-by-incarceration sentences.

in terms of both number of people in prison and overall

15

16

28

ennsylvania is among only seven states in the U.S.
that have sentenced people to death-by-incarceration

state residents—have 1,609 and 560 people serving DBI
In 1974, fewer than 500 people were serving DBI sentences

sentences, respectively. Put another way, Pennsylvania

in Pennsylvania. By 1990, the number of people serving DBI

has both a greater total and a greater portion of its prison

sentences increased to more than 2,139. As of September

population serving DBI sentences than states with higher

2017, 5,346 people are serving death-by-incarceration

incarceration rates, including Texas, Arizona, Alabama,

sentences in Pennsylvania. Despite a 21% decline in violent

Mississippi, Georgia, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Ohio.27

crime between 2003 and 2015, Pennsylvania’s population of
people sentenced to DBI has risen by 40% between 2003 and
2016.25 People sentenced to DBI account for approximately
11% of Pennsylvania’s total prison population. Relative to the
overall population of Pennsylvania, 42 people per 100,000
are condemned to die in prison under a DBI sentence.
Pennsylvania ranks near the top of every measure of DBI

Increase in DBI Sentences in PA
Number of People Serving DBI at year end
6000
5000
4000

sentences across the country.

More than 1 in 10 people serving DBI
sentences in the United States are in
Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania has
two-and-a-half times the rate of people

3000
2000
1000
0
1974

1979 1984 1989 1994 1999 2004 2009 2014

World’s Leading Jurisdiction
in Imposing Death-ByIncarceration Sentences

Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s per capita rate of 177 DBI sentences per

Total DBI Sentenced Population

100,000 is also higher than the overall incarceration rates of
140 countries, including Mexico (169 per 100,000), the United

8,919

Kingdom (England and Wales) (146), Spain (130), China (135),
Kenya (114), and Germany (77).32

5,090

4,875

3,804

Philadelphia County is the engine that drives Pennsylvania’s

2,694

death-by-incarceration machine, but several other counties

1,609

contribute substantially. Out of 67 Pennsylvania counties, 34
counties have higher rates of people serving DBI sentences

Florida

P

California

Louisiana

Michigan Philadelphia Illinois

than the national rate of 17 per 100,000. Allegheny County,
with 541 DBI sentences—the second-highest among

hiladelphia County alone has 2,694 people sentenced

Pennsylvania counties and 10% of the state total—has more

to death-by-incarceration, which comprises just

people serving DBI sentences than 28 states in the U.S.

over 50% of those sentenced to DBI in Pennsylvania and

Fifteen Pennsylvania counties account for almost 90% of the

is the highest total of any county or parish in the country.

people serving DBI sentences in the state, correlating closely

More people serving DBI sentences were convicted in

with the state’s largest communities of color. The counties

Philadelphia than 45 states in the U.S., and Philadelphia has

comprising the Philadelphia Metro Area33—Philadelphia,

more people sentenced to DBI than the 24 states with the

Delaware, Montgomery, Bucks, and Chester —have 3,216

smallest populations of people serving DBI combined (2,694

people sentenced to DBI, or 60% of the total DBI-sentenced

people from Philadelphia compared to 2,435 combined from

population in Pennsylvania. Dauphin County, which contains

the lowest 24 states). More people are serving DBI sentences

the state capital of Harrisburg, accounts for the fourth-most

from Philadelphia than the entire prison populations of 83

people serving DBI with 178 (3.33% of the total) and the

different countries and territories.28 Finland, with a population

second-highest per capita rate at 66 per 100,000 residents.

more than four-times that of Philadelphia, has only 500 more
people incarcerated under any sentence than Philadelphia
has serving death-by-incarceration.29

DBI
Sentences

% Of
Total

Per
100K

2,694

50.39%

176.54

Allegheny

541

10.12%

44.22

193

3.61%

34.53
66.39

Rank

County

1

Philadelphia

2

Philadelphia has 177 people serving DBI sentences per

3

Delaware

100,000 residents—a number significantly higher than

4

Dauphin

178

3.33%

Louisiana’s U.S.-leading rate of 108 people per 100,000.

5

Montgomery

136

2.54%

17.00

In 1977, Philadelphia had approximately 400 fewer

6

Berks

119

2.23%

28.92

7

Lancaster

119

2.23%

22.91

8

Bucks

113

2.11%

18.07

9

108

2.02%

24.83

overall incarceration rate in 1977 was also significantly

York

10

Lehigh

94

1.76%

26.90

lower than the rate of people serving DBI today (115 per

11

Erie

81

1.52%

28.87

100,000 in 1977 vs. 177 per 100,000 in 2017). Philadelphia

12

Chester

80

1.50%

16.04

currently has roughly the same proportion of its population

13

Luzerne

71

1.33%

22.1

14

Northampton

69

1.29%

23.17

15

Westmoreland

56

1.05%

15.34

4,652

87.02%

54.86

694

12.98%

16.44

people incarcerated under any sentence than it has
incarcerated under a DBI sentence today. Philadelphia’s

30

incarcerated under a death-by-incarceration sentence as
Venezuela has incarcerated under any sentence (177 DBI
sentences per 100,000 people in Philadelphia compared
to 173 incarcerated people per 100,000 in Venezuela).31

Total (Top 15)
Others (<1% each)

29

The Legal Framework
of Permanent Captivity

I

n Pennsylvania, death-by-incarceration is a mandatory

For those convicted of first-degree murder, the legislature

sentence for first and second-degree murder. It is also

permits judges to impose any sentence above the minimum,

mandatory in cases of third-degree murder if the individual

including death-by-incarceration. The Pennsylvania

has previously been convicted of murder or voluntary

Supreme Court, in line with the U.S. Supreme Court’s

manslaughter. DBI is a potential or mandatory sentence for

guidance that DBI sentences for young defendants may only

several other crimes, though in practice those sentences are

be imposed in the rarest of circumstances, later clarified

rarely doled out—less than half a percent of people serving

that DBI sentences for young people may only be imposed

DBI sentences were convicted of a non-homicide offense.

if the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that
the person is “incorrigible” or “beyond rehabilitation.”45 After

Pennsylvania has three types of criminal homicide34

2012, for those who were between 15 and 17 years old, the

offenses: murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary

minimum sentence that a judge can impose is 35 years to

manslaughter. Murder is further broken down into three

life imprisonment. For those younger than 15, the minimum

degrees of guilt. First-degree murder is an “intentional

sentence is 25 years to life imprisonment. Adolescents

killing” that is “willful, deliberate, and premeditated.”36 For

between 15 and 17 years old at the time of the offense who

individuals who were 18 or older at the time of the offense,

are convicted of second-degree murder must be sentenced

the sentence for a first-degree murder conviction is either

to a minimum term of 30 years to life, while those who were

death-by-execution or death-by-incarceration. Second-

younger than 15 must be sentenced to at least 20 years to

degree murder, also known as felony-murder, occurs

life imprisonment.

35

37

30

when a homicide is committed “in the perpetration of a
felony.”38 A person can be convicted of felony-murder if a

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in

homicide occurs while she is committing, attempting to

Montgomery v. Louisiana, ruling that Miller v. Alabama

commit, fleeing after committing or attempting to commit,

applies retroactively to young people sentenced to

or acting as an accomplice in robbery, rape, deviate sexual

mandatory death-by-incarceration before 201246—an

intercourse by force, arson, burglary, or kidnapping.39 For

outcome that was ardently resisted by Pennsylvania district

people 18 or older at the time of the offense, death-by-

attorneys, courts, and legislators. In Pennsylvania, over 500

incarceration is the mandatory sentence for second-degree

people were serving death-by-incarceration for offenses

murder. Third-degree murder is simply defined as “all other

committed when they were younger than 18, all of whom

kinds of murder.” Third-degree murder convictions typically

were immediately entitled to a new sentencing proceeding.

carry a maximum sentence of 40 years. If, however, a

As of April 17, 2018, fewer than half—231 people—have been

person has previously been convicted of murder or voluntary

re-sentenced. 111 people who were previously serving DBI

manslaughter, death-by-incarceration is the mandatory

sentences were re-sentenced and released on parole.

sentence.

During the delay between the decision in Montgomery v.

40

41

42

43

Louisiana and their re-sentencing proceeding, 3 people
After the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory DBI

died still serving an unconstitutional death-by-incarceration

sentences for homicide offenses committed by juveniles in

sentence.47

2012,44 the Pennsylvania legislature amended the sentencing
statute for individuals who were younger than 18 at the time

Most people serving DBI in Pennsylvania were convicted of

of the offense and convicted after June 24, 2012 to provide

first-degree murder (68%). Less than 1%—40 people total—of

mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment. If a juvenile

people sentenced to DBI were convicted of third-degree

receives a sentence that permits release on parole, those

murder. Nine-percent of people sentenced to death-by-

who are eventually released must serve the remainder of

incarceration were convicted of an unspecified criminal

their lives under parole supervision.

homicide or murder. Of those convicted of non-homicide

ended in another person’s death. Regardless of the extent of

DBI Sentences by Offense
Offense

Lifers

% of Lifers

First-degree Murder

3,628

67.86%

Second-degree Murder

1,169

21.87%

Third-degree Murder

40

0.75%

Criminal Homicide48

480

8.98%

Sexual Offense

12

0.22%

Other Offenses

17

0.32%

Total

5,346

100%

their participation in the underlying felony or the homicide,
a person convicted of felony-murder is automatically
sentenced to die in prison. Thus, contrary to any stereotype
that only incorrigible murderers and career criminals end
up serving death-by-incarceration sentences, Pennsylvania
prisons are filled with lifers who never committed any
offense with an intent to take a life, do not have extensive
criminal records, and who have spent decades in prison
because of the unintended consequences of a decision they
made or because of the actions of a co-defendant that they

offenses, 12 (0.22%) were convicted of sexual offenses and

had no control over.

17 (0.32%) were convicted of other offenses, such as robbery,
arson, or aggravated assault.

There is no other penalty for non-capital first-degree murder
or second-degree murder – the minimum is the maximum,

A figure that will surprise those unfamiliar with the subject is

the floor is the ceiling.49 This feature of the non-capital

that almost a quarter of people—1,169 total—serving death-

first-degree murder and second-degree murder sentencing

by-incarceration sentences in Pennsylvania were convicted

makes these penalties outliers in the state’s criminal code,

of second-degree murder, or felony-murder, meaning they

as they and the handful of other offenses that mandate

did not possess any intention to take a life. To be convicted

imposition of a life sentence are the only criminal offenses on

of felony-murder, a person does not need to cause a death,

the books in Pennsylvania where there is no individualized

intend to kill, or know that their accomplice intends to kill,

consideration and opportunity for a lesser sentence given to

so long as they participated in the underlying felony that

the defendant when a sentence is being imposed.

The Demographics of Permanent Captivity
Racial Disparity:
DBI Sentences Per 100,000 People
Black

253

White

14

Latinx

66

Other

7

Black Pennsylvanians, who are
serving death-by-incarceration
sentences at a rate more than
18-times higher than that of White
Pennsylvanians.
Latinx Pennsylvanians are serving DBI sentences at a rate
5-times that of White Pennsylvanians. While only 11% of
Pennsylvania’s residents are Black, 65% of people sentenced
to DBI are Black for a rate of 253 people per 100,000

Like most measures of the criminal legal system,

Black Pennsylvania residents. Latinx people comprise

death-by-incarceration sentences
disproportionately impact
communities of color, particularly

approximately 6% of Pennsylvania’s overall population,
but 9% of its DBI population and a rate of 66 per 100,000.
Conversely, over 76% of Pennsylvania’s residents are White,
but only 25% of people sentenced to DBI are White, with

31

CASE PROFILE

The reality of a life sentence is ugly; it’s
brutal, barbaric, and unending torture of
the psyche for sure. Add to that the fact
that you’re not the killer and it’s just pure
HELL.” 50

32

Avis Lee lives her life with a relentless
and undefeatable spirit of optimism
despite being in the 38th year of her
DBI sentence for a second-degree
“felony-murder” conviction. On March
9, 2018, Avis received news from the
Pennsylvania Superior Court that
further fueled her optimism: the Court
granted her en banc petition to hear her
argument that Miller v. Alabama applies
in her case since she was 18 years old at
the time of the offense and possessed
the characteristics of youth that the U.S.
Supreme Court recognized create a risk
of disproportionate punishment in the
context of mandatory life without parole
sentences.
An en banc review means a panel of
at least 9 judges will consider whether
the Superior Court should overrule
its earlier precedent on Miller claims
brought by individuals who were 18 at
the time of the offense.
Avis’ childhood was marked by poverty,
housing insecurity, violence in her home
and among her peer group, alcoholism
and drug abuse, and sexual violence. To
this day Avis has vivid memories from
the ages of 4-6 of seeing her mother’s
blood on the floor, furniture, and walls
of their home from the daily beatings
of the man she lived with. Alcohol was
a constant in the house, as were drugs
such as heroin. When she was 5 or 6

Avis Lee

Avis has
been totally
misconduct
free for more
than a quartercentury.
years old Avis was sexually molested
on multiple occasions by an older
cousin. When she was 8 years old,
Avis began using alcohol. Drinking and
drug use increased as she entered her
second decade in life. Until age 14, Avis’
family moved from house to house,
living in homes infested with roaches,
mice, and rats, unable to pay heating
bills and forced to huddle around the
oven in the winter for warmth. When
she was 16, Avis was attacked by a man
who put a knife to her throat, dragged
her into a storm cellar, and raped her. To
block out the trauma, Avis’ use of drugs
and alcohol increased, with this pattern
intensifying after her mother died when
she was 17 until the night of the events
that led to her incarceration.
On November 2, 1979, when Avis was
18 years old, she accompanied her
brother and a friend to the Oakland
neighborhood in Pittsburgh. Her brother
was going to commit a robbery with
a handgun. He told his sister to be
the lookout and tell him if anybody
was coming. When the intended
victim attempted to strike her brother,

however, he pulled the trigger, shooting
and killing Robert Walker. Avis’ brother
and friend ran from the scene. Avis

flagged down a bus and told the
driver a man had been injured
and needed help. An ambulance
was called. Avis went home. Six
months later a co-defendant identified
her to the police and she confessed
to her role in the plan to commit the
robbery. She was sentenced to DBI.
Avis works with the LifeLines
Project, Let’s Get Free-Women and
Trans Prisoner Defense Committee,
the Coalition to Abolish Death By
Incarceration.
During her time in prison Avis has never
had one write-up for violence, and
has been totally misconduct free for
more than a quarter-century. She has
completed numerous rehabilitation
programs, and engaged in a number
of service and volunteer projects,
including being a braille transcriber
since 1999. A play co-written about her
life and her case, “Chin to the Sky,” won
an Honorable Mention in the Drama
Category for PEN America’s Prison
Writing Awards in 2015-16.51
When asked about the impact she
hopes “Chin to the Sky” will have Avis
replied,

“I hope that youths hear my story
and don’t make the same or
similar mistakes like I have and
find themselves in this situation. I
hope that those in the legislature can hear
it and change a law.”52

a rate of 14 per 100,000. Slightly more than 1% of people

DBI in Philadelphia

sentenced to DBI are of other races. Racial disparities in

Likelihood of serving a DBI sentence
in Philly if you are…

DBI sentences are more pronounced than among the
overall prison population. Pennsylvania had 49,301 people
incarcerated in the state prison system as of December 31,
2016.53 Of those incarcerated, 47% were Black, 42% were
White, 10% were Latinx, and 1% were of other races.54

Black

1 in 294

Latinx

1 in 722

White

1 in 2,867

Philadelphia Sentences Black People to
Death-By-Incarceration at a Rate that Exceeds
Most Nations’ General Incarceration Rate

O

ut of Philadelphia’s 2,694 people sentenced to

Black, but 39% of people serving DBI sentences (14 people)

DBI, 84% (2,250 people) are Black, while 43% of

are Black (258 per 100,000), while 87% of the population is

Philadelphia’s residents are Black. 42% of people serving

White and 50% of those serving DBI (18 people) are White

DBI in Pennsylvania are Black Philadelphians. One of every

(9.6 per 100,000). Similarly, in Mercer County, 6% of the

294 Black Philadelphia residents is serving a sentence

population is Black, but 47% of people sentenced to DBI are

of death-by-incarceration (340 per 100,000). Only 153

Black (134 per 100,000), while 91% of the population is White

(6%) people sentenced to DBI in Philadelphia are White,

and 53% of people serving DBI are White (10 per 100,000).

compared to 29% of Philadelphia’s overall population, for
a rate of 35 per 100,000. Latinx people are serving DBI at a

Pennsylvania has 201 women incarcerated under death-by-

rate of 139 per 100,000, with 260 (10% of Philadelphia’s total)

incarceration sentences, representing almost 4% of those

serving DBI compared to 12% of Philadelphia’s population.

serving DBI sentences in the state. Although racial disparities

Philadelphia sentences Black people to deathby-incarceration at a rate higher than the overall
incarceration rates of all but 23 world countries
and territories, including Brazil (318 per 100,000), South

are less stark among women serving DBI sentences, they

Africa (291 per 100,000), Israel (265 per 100,000), Saudi

population, most women—74%—were convicted of first-

Arabia (161 per 100,000). In Allegheny County, 13% of the

degree murder, while 20% of women serving DBI sentences

county’s residents are Black, but 76% (409 people) serving

were convicted of felony-murder. A higher proportion of

DBI sentences are Black for a rate of 253 per 100,000. White

Black women were convicted of felony-murder, with 25% of

residents make up 80% of Allegheny County’s population,

Black women serving DBI sentences under a second-degree

but 24% (128 people) of people sentenced to DBI from the

murder conviction.

55

are still pronounced. Out of 201 women sentenced to DBI, 87
(43%) are Black, 99 (49%) are White, 10 (5%) are Latina, and
5 (2.5%) are of other races. Like the overall DBI-sentenced

county (13 per 100,000).
Consistent with data on most criminal offenses,56 most
Racial disparities persist in counties with relatively

people serving DBI sentences in Pennsylvania were

homogenous racial compositions. In Fayette County, for

convicted and sentenced when they were 25 years-old or

example, only 5% of the population is Black, but 38% of

younger. Data from the Department of Corrections reflects

people serving DBI sentences (16 people) are Black (253

the age at which an individual entered DOC, rather than their

per 100,000), while 93% of the population is White and 62%

age at the time of the offense for which they were convicted.

of people sentenced to DBI (26 people) are White (21 per

Given the time between when a person is arrested until they

100,000). In Lackawanna County, 2.5% of the population is

are ultimately convicted, most people were likely at least

33

one year younger at the time of their offense than when they

Racial disparities, particularly between Black and White

were committed to DOC custody. Approximately 51% (2,723

persons, are higher among those who began serving death-

people) of those serving DBI sentences entered Department

by-incarceration sentences in the DOC when they were

of Corrections custody between the ages of 18 and 25.

young. While 15% of those serving DBI who entered the

25% of those serving DBI (1,329 people) entered the DOC

DOC between the ages of 18 and 21 are White—compared

between the ages of 18 and 21. An additional two-percent

to 25% of the overall DBI-sentenced population—73% are

(118 people) were 17 or younger, with the youngest entering

Black—compared to 65% of the DBI-sentenced population.

the DOC at the age of 15. The age of entry into the DOC

For those aged 22 to 25 when they entered the DOC, 72%

among people serving DBI steadily decreases after the age

are Black and 19% are White. Nearly 40% (2,046 people) of

of 25. Roughly 20% (1,065 people) were between the ages

all people incarcerated under a DBI sentence are Black and

of 26 and 30, while only 18% (969 people) were between the

were 25 or younger when they entered the DOC. As the age

ages of 31 and 40. Six-percent (337 people) of those serving

at time of entry to the DOC increases, racial disparities begin

DBI sentences were between 41 and 50, and two-percent

to decrease. Among people serving DBI who were between

(102 people) were between 51 and 60. Approximately half-

the ages of 26 and 30, 64% (679 people) are Black and 25%

a-percent (32 people) of those serving DBI sentences were

(270 people) are White. For those who were aged 31 to 40,

61 or older upon entry to the DOC, with the oldest being 74

57% (551 people) are Black and 33% (323 people) are White.

years-old. The median age of people serving DBI sentences

For people sentenced to DBI who were between ages 41

upon entering the DOC is 25.

and 50, 45% (150 people) are Black and 46% (155 people) are
White.

34

An Aging and Elderly Population of Lifers
DBI sentences in Pennsylvania is growing increasingly older.

Average Age of People
Serving DBI Sentences

The average current age of people serving DBI sentences
46.8

is 48.4 years old. Today the average person serving DBI
in Pennsylvania is about 15 years older than the average
person serving DBI in 1980. Over 70% (3,770 people) of those

44.6

currently serving DBI sentences are at least 40 years old and
45% (2,377 people) are at least 50 years old. Over 21% (1,148

42.4

people) of those serving DBI are 60 or older and five percent
(281 people) are 70 or older. Recidivism rates are measured
in a variety of ways,57 but across all measures, recidivism for

39.9

people released from prison at an older age—including those

38.5

sentenced to life imprisonment—are low.58 In Pennsylvania, of

37.4

people who were 50 or older when they were released from
35.7

prison in 2003, only 1.4% were convicted of any new crime
within 22 months of their release.59

33.6
1980

1986

W

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

The average length of time people sentenced to DBI have
served in the DOC is 20.5 years. Like most other measures

hile research shows that the likelihood of a person

of death-by-incarceration sentences, this number has

engaging in criminal conduct or harmful behavior

increased steadily and dramatically in recent decades. In

drops precipitously with age and maturity (discussed in detail

1980, the average time served in the DOC by people serving

in the subsequent section), the population of people serving

DBI was 7.3 years.

Average Time Served of
DBI-Sentenced Population by Year

six percent (303 people) have served more than 40 years.
20.1

Nine people have served more than half a century under
a death-by-incarceration sentence. 169 people have been

18.1
15.9

incarcerated under a DBI sentence since the Fall of Saigon in
1975 and the end of the U.S. military’s campaign in Vietnam.

Time Served by People Sentenced to DBI
Years

DBI Sentences

% of Lifers

50+

9

0.17%

45+

79

1.48%

40+

303

5.67%

35+

635

11.88%

30+

1196

22.37%

25+

1950

36.48%

20+

2742

51.29%

15+

3436

64.27%

Currently, two-thirds of people sentenced to DBI have

10+

4121

77.09%

served 15 years or more in the DOC (3,436 people). Almost a

5+

4807

89.92%

quarter (1,196 people) have served more than 30 years, and

0+

5346

100.00%

13.0
12.0
9.9
8.5
7.3
1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

35

Cost of DBI Sentences

I

ncarceration is costly. In Pennsylvania, the cost of DOC

average total cost of incarcerating a person who began

operations increased from $94 million in 1980 to $1.7

serving a DBI sentence in 2015 at age 25 until their death to

billion in 2010. The prevalence of death-by-incarceration

be over $3.6 million.63 Between 2010 and 2016, an average of

sentences is an integral component of the rise in costs

128 people per year began serving sentences in the DOC. If

associated with incarceration. With people serving DBI

an average of 128 people sentenced to DBI are committed

sentences growing increasingly older and spending

to the DOC per year and the state spends approximately

decades in prison, the economic costs of DBI sentences

$3.6 million to incarcerate each person sentenced to DBI

will only continue to rise. Because the typical range of

over their lifetime, every year Pennsylvania commits to

physical ailments associated with aging are compounded or

spend roughly $460 million to ensure that those sentenced

accelerated by incarceration, age 55 is usually regarded as

to DBI die in prison. In Philadelphia alone, with an average

60

delineating the elderly population in prisons. Due primarily

of 56 people sentenced to DBI committed to the DOC per

to increased healthcare costs associated with age, it costs

year between 2010 and 2016, Pennsylvania will ultimately

between two- and three-times more to incarcerate an

spend over $200 million for each annual cohort of people

elderly person than the average person in prison. M. Kay

sentenced to DBI from Philadelphia. Furthermore, 1,811

Harris, an Associate Professor Emerita at Temple University’s

people serving DBI sentences in Pennsylvania are 55 or

Department of Criminal Justice, estimated that the actual

older (34% of people serving DBI sentences). Using Professor

annual cost of incarcerating a person in the Pennsylvania

Harris’s calculations, Pennsylvania currently spends $86

Department of Corrections for the 2015-16 fiscal year was

million per year to incarcerate elderly people serving DBI

$47,680. Assuming 2% annual inflation and adjusting for

sentences.

61

62

age-related cost increases, Professor Harris estimated the

CASE PROFILE

Arthur “Cetewayo” Johnson
Two months after Arthur “Cetewayo”
Johnson turned 18 in 1970, he was
arrested by Philadelphia police and
questioned about a homicide. Although
Cetewayo could not read and had
scored in the intellectual disability
range on IQ tests administered at
ages 8 and 14, the Philadelphia police
department alleged that he knowingly
signed a written “confession” to the
homicide. Cetewayo was questioned

36

or left in isolation while handcuffed to
a piece of furniture for approximately 6

This tainted
confession
was the only
evidence used
to convict
Cetewayo and
sentence him
to DBI.

in 2016. Despite not being accused of
committing any serious rule violations in
approximately 30 years, prison officials
refused to allow Cetewayo, then in his
60s, a chance to reintegrate with the
general prison population.
Ordering prison officials to release
Cetewayo from decades-long
perpetual solitary confinement,
Chief Judge for the Middle District of
Pennsylvania, Christopher Conner,
wrote that “it is difficult to conjure up a

hours. After telling the police repeatedly

more compelling case for reintegration

that he was at home with his family

to the general prison population. After

the evening of the homicide, he was

thirty-six years of isolation, Mr. Johnson

told that the statement he was
signing declared that he had no
involvement in the killing and
was at home – instead, it was a
falsified confession.
This tainted confession was the only
evidence used to convict Cetewayo and
sentence him to DBI.

During his time in prison, the nightmare

deserves the opportunity to shake

became profoundly worse. Accused of

hands with someone other than his

escape attempts by prison officials, he

attorneys.”64

was placed in solitary confinement
in December 1979 – and there
he remained until a federal
court ordered his release to the
general population 37 years later

In late December 2016, Cetewayo reentered the general prison population.
Since that time he has worked with
advocates inside and outside the prison
to advance parole opportunities for
lifers and end DBI sentencing, cofounding The Unity Group [T.U.G.] at SCI
Greene for this purpose. He currently
has an appeal pending based on the
argument that the right established in
Miller v. Alabama preventing juveniles
from the disproportionate imposition
of a mandatory life-without-parole
sentence applies to 18-year-olds such
as himself factually, scientifically, and
legally.

No Way Out

A

The Politics of Commutation

side from having a conviction overturned or death

gubernatorial election.67 Subsequently, a 1997 amendment

itself, commutation is currently the only avenue by

to the Pennsylvania Constitution made obtaining a

which a person serving death-by-incarceration may be

commutation for a DBI sentence significantly more difficult.

released from prison in Pennsylvania. While commutation
was used somewhat regularly through the 1970s, its use

McFadden’s commutation and the resulting 1997

declined in the 1980s and essentially ceased altogether in

amendments virtually ended any possibility of a functioning

the 1990s. In 1971, 38 people who had their DBI sentences

and robust system of commutation in Pennsylvania. The 1997

commuted were released from Pennsylvania prisons. That

amendments required a unanimous Board of Pardons vote

figure represented nearly 8% of the total population of

to recommend commutation to the governor, rather than

people serving DBI sentences at the time in Pennsylvania.65

the vote of a simple majority. Additionally, the amendments

Over the course of the 1970s, an average of 769 people

mandated that several positions on the Board of Pardons

were serving DBI sentences in Pennsylvania, and 203 people

be occupied by people in positions that increased the

who had their life sentences commuted were released. In

chances they would be opposed to granting commutation

the 1980s, as the number of people serving increased to

applications.68 During Ridge’s time as governor, the Board of

an average of 1,786 for the decade, only 36 people were

Pardons only recommended 4 commutations. Ridge granted

released after having their DBI sentences commuted. Under

0. Since Ridge left office in 2001, only 8 DBI sentences

Governor Dick Thornburgh, only seven DBI sentences were

have been commuted. During Governor Corbett’s term in

commuted between 1979-1986.

office from 2011-2014, the Board of Pardons did not even
recommend that a single DBI sentence be commuted.

Governor Robert Casey’s second term of office marked the
effective end of commutation in Pennsylvania. Between

Even among ostensibly liberal regimes, commutation

1987-1994, Governor Casey commuted the DBI sentences

has been rare, especially considering the ever-increasing

of 27 people, including Reginald McFadden, who was

population of people serving DBI. During Ed Rendell’s 8

released in 1994. One member of the Board of Pardons

years in office, only 5 DBI sentences were commuted. Since

voted against commuting McFadden’s DBI sentence, while

entering office in 2015, Governor Wolf has only granted two

four members recommended commutation, including

commutations. Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who ran for

Lieutenant Governor Mark Singel. McFadden had received

office on a reform platform, has been one of the primary

favorable recommendations for commutation after serving

roadblocks in granting commutation to people serving DBI

as an informant following an uprising at SCI Camp Hill in

in the current administration. In December of 2016, Shapiro

1989.66 In July of 1994, shortly after his release, McFadden

was the only Board of Pardons member to vote against

raped and killed several people in New York. News of his

recommending commutation for William “Smitty” Smith.

arrest and suspicions of McFadden’s involvement in these

Smitty, now approaching his late 70s, is serving DBI for his

crimes had a substantial impact in the ongoing gubernatorial

role as an accomplice in the 1968 death of Charles Ticktin.

election campaigns in Pennsylvania. One of the candidates

Smitty was unanimously recommended for commutation

was Lieutenant Governor Singel, who had voted to

in 1992, but his application was not granted by Governor

recommend McFadden for commutation. His opponent

Casey before Reginald McFadden’s arrest became public.69

was Tom Ridge, who immediately ran a series of attack ads

Following critical coverage in the press and pressure from

on Singel highlighting this commutation. Ridge turned an

advocates, the decision to deny commutation to Smitty was

8-percent polling deficit into a 7-percent lead within days

reversed in June 2018. His favorable recommendation now

after McFadden’s arrest, and went on to defeat Singel in the

awaits a decision by Governor Wolf.70

37

The decline in use of commutation in death-by-incarceration

discrimination. DBI sentences are overwhelmingly imposed

sentences is consistent with national trends. Between

on teenagers and young adults, but increasingly are being

1995-2003, most states commuted fewer than 100 non-

served by aging and elderly prisoners still being punished

capital sentences, while 34 states, including Pennsylvania,

for acts committed decades ago. The legal framework

commuted 20 or fewer sentences.

is unforgiving, allowing for no mitigation, no lesser

71

sentence, and no hope of release short of commutation,
Meanwhile, the number of people who have died while

which has become increasingly rare just as it has become

serving a DBI sentence is growing rapidly. In the 1980s, an

increasingly necessary to address the extraordinary number

average of 6.8 people per year died serving a DBI sentence.

of rehabilitated people serving a DBI sentence. As will be

During the 1990s, that number had risen to 16.4 deaths per

further explored in the following section, the inadequate

year, and in the 2000s an average of 28.9 people died per

policy justifications for this state of affairs renders this a

year. Between 2010-2016, an average of 38 people per year

punishment lacking in legitimacy.

have died serving a DBI sentence. In all, 787 people have
died serving a DBI sentence since 1980.

Deaths of People Serving DBI in PA
800

38

Decade

Deaths

Per Year

1980s

68

6.8

1990s

164

16.4

2000s

289

28.9

2010-2016

266

38

Total

787

21.3

700
600
500
400
300

The data on DBI sentencing in Pennsylvania lead to
inescapable conclusions. Philadelphia is the DBI capital
of the world. Pennsylvania itself is an international and

200
100

national leader in DBI sentencing. The racial disparities in

0

DBI sentencing in the state are stark evidence of systemic

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

39

40

II.
ILLEGITIMATE

DBI’S BANKRUPT
POLICY JUSTIFICATIONS

The Case for Parole Eligibility

C

losing off parole eligibility for the entirety of a person’s

future criminal offenses is age. As people age and mature

natural life is a failed policy predicated upon the

they are less likely to re-offend and they are especially

fallacy that the trajectory of a person’s life – including their

unlikely to commit a further homicide offense. Aging

capacity for rehabilitation, transformation, and redemption

and elderly incarcerated people – an increasingly large

– can be accurately predicted at the time of sentencing. In

cohort in Pennsylvania – pose little risk to public safety if

Pennsylvania, the prediction that a person convicted of first

released.

or second degree murder should never be released from
prison is not even made at sentencing. Instead, it is set in

•	 DBI is a waste of resources. The costs of

stone by statute and imposed mandatorily based on the

incarcerating a permanent, ever-growing number of

conviction without regard to any mitigating circumstances,

people sentenced to DBI is a waste of resources, putting

the individual’s role in the offense, or their prospects for

strain on the state budget by needlessly wasting money

change.

to confine people who are no longer a risk to the public.
This money could instead be spent on public education,

As demonstrated in the following section, narratives of

medical and mental health services, housing, and other

maturity and transformation are common among the more

social services that are necessary for creating safe and

than 5,300 serving DBI sentences in Pennsylvania. By

healthy communities.

disregarding this basic reality, the mandatory sentencing
scheme for imposition of DBI sentences in Pennsylvania has

•	 DBI does not serve victims. The retributive impetus

led to a situation where increasing numbers of aging and

inherent in DBI sentences, while an understandable

elderly prisoners who present virtually no public safety risk

response to the devastating loss wrought by homicide,

languish in prisons at tremendous social and fiscal expense.

does not help victims heal. Further, victim attitudes are
not as punitive as they are often portrayed to be. Many

The case for parole eligibility for people serving DBI

support policy responses that emphasize preventing

sentences is supported by unassailable policy justifications.

re-offending and addressing the causes of crime and

DBI is a failed policy on its own terms, and the alternative

violence over increased punishment. And a growing

– parole eligibility – possesses well-established merits. As

number of people who have lost loved ones to violence

elaborated on in this section, DBI sentences are unnecessary

are raising their voices in support of second chances and

and harmful, particularly in the following ways:

restorative justice.

•	 DBI is not necessary to ensure or increase

•	 DBI harms the incarcerated, their families, and

public safety. Research has consistently shown that

their communities. By permanently removing people

the strongest predictor for whether a person will commit

from their communities, DBI sentences deprive them and

41

their families of hope and fail to provide incentives for

release. The determination that a person will never be

rehabilitation and transformation. Family members pay

capable of release cannot be realistically made at the time

a high emotional and economic cost in supporting their

of sentencing; allowing for parole eligibility remedies this

loved ones behind bars. The communities most targeted

deficiency by creating the potential for eventual release

by violence lose out on the experience and guidance of

subject to the safeguards of the parole system.

rehabilitated elders who are prevented from returning to
their communities where many would be incredible assets

But DBI does not persist because it supports rational or

with invaluable life experiences and a commitment to

humane or justifiable policy aims. It persists because of

making amends for harms they have caused.

politics; more specifically, the punitive politics that rests
upon an implicit and false premise that sending more

•	 Parole eligibility is the smart policy. Ending DBI
allows the parole board to do what it was created to

die – will result in increased public safety. This is not true; the

do: assess whether an incarcerated person is ready for

justifications for DBI sentences cannot withstand scrutiny.

Failing On its
Own Terms
42

people to prison for longer periods of time – even until they

D

Deterrence, Retribution,
and Incapacitation

eath-by-incarceration advocates justify this sentence

Terror, vengeance, and social death. These are the

of permanent punishment because it allegedly

ideological and political underpinnings of death-by-

furthers one or more of three goals: deterrence, retribution,

incarceration sentences as well as the system of mass

and incapacitation.

incarceration more generally. Deployment of these punitive,
stigmatizing, and harmful measures, institutionalizing

Deterrence is nothing more than the instrumentalization

them via the system of criminal prosecution and mass

of fear, based on the idea that punishment will sufficiently

imprisonment, however, cannot be justified by assessing

terrorize the punished or others so that they will be too afraid

whether they achieve their stated goals. This is because, as

to commit the same offense.

discussed in this section, DBI sentences fail to achieve any of
the purported goals used to justify them.

Retribution is the idea that those who cause harm should
have harm done unto them; it is the ethic of vengeance.

The system of mass incarceration, with DBI sentences as
its exemplar and anchor, both fails on its own terms and is

Incapacitation is a term denoting how prison removes the

totally refuted by the lived experience of redemption and

convicted from society and thus prevents further criminal

transformation by those subjected to permanent exclusion,

conduct outside of prison walls during the period of

to social death. Rehabilitation, redemption, restoration

incarceration.

to the community, identifying and addressing the root
causes of violence and harm – these are the ways forward,

Essentially, the incarcerated are subject to social death,

not emotive calls for punitive responses to violence that

excluded and banished from their community, and

consistently fail to deliver on their promises.

considered less than fully human from the vantage points of
the law and the broader society.

Deterrence

D

Safety Through Terror

eterrence has long been a primary goal in imposing

the act for which they were convicted77—both of which

punishments. Crafting punishments like DBI

are required for a punishment to have a deterrent effect.

sentences to deter potential future offenses is premised

One recent study found that only 22% of people convicted

on three assumptions: 1) potential offenders must have

of felonies knew what the potential punishment for their

actual knowledge that their conduct is a crime and the

conduct would be, while 55% of those convicted of homicide

punishment for that crime; 2) this knowledge must play a

offenses did not even consider the potential punishment

role in a person’s choice to either commit the crime or refrain

before acting.78 Most people who commit crimes are

from committing the crime; and 3) the perceived costs of

present-oriented, thus the length of punishment does not

committing the crime must outweigh the perceived benefits

have an effect on their actions.79

such that potential offenders will comply with the law.72 The
idea that punishments deter is based on a “rational actor”

DBI sentences are particularly unlikely to deter many of

paradigm of antisocial behavior, the idea that the would-

those sentenced to DBI in Pennsylvania. Almost a quarter

be murderer makes a cold calculation about the costs

of those sentenced to DBI in Pennsylvania were convicted

and benefits of killing before deciding on the fate of their

of felony-murder. It is especially doubtful that people

would-be victim(s). In other words, in Pennsylvania, those

sentenced to DBI for participating in a robbery (or other

who may commit murders must weigh the costs of being

similar felony) that ended in death realize that they can be

apprehended, convicted, and serving a sentence of death-

sentenced to die in prison for their actions when they do not

by-incarceration against the benefit of committing a murder.

intend or anticipate that someone will be killed.80

Superficially, the cost of serving a DBI sentence seems to
outweigh the benefit of committing a murder.

Furthermore, half of the people sentenced to DBI were 25
or younger when they entered the DOC in Pennsylvania.

As a general matter, however, criminal law’s deterrent effect

Recent social- and neuroscientific developments show that

on people is dubious, at best. In the case of particularly

most people do not fully develop the ability to appreciate

long or harsh sentences, however, there is nothing doubtful

risks and consequences and conform their actions to those

about the consensus among experts that harsh sentences

risks and consequences until they are in their early to mid-

do not deter. Studies generally show that lengthy

twenties.81 Not only do most people lack the knowledge of

sentences do not have a deterrent effect on crime.75 The

the potential punishments for criminal conduct and therefore

“rational actor” paradigm and the assumptions upon which

do not consider those punishments when acting, but many

deterrence theory is premised are divorced from the actual

of those sentenced to DBI are socially and neurologically

causes of violence and the thought processes of those who

less capable of even engaging in and acting on the rational

commit crimes punishable by DBI in Pennsylvania. Most

calculus required for DBI sentences to have a deterrent

violence is not driven by individual pathology or the cold

effect.

73

74

rational calculus assumed by deterrence theory, but by
poverty, inequity, lack of opportunity, shame and isolation,

None of the foregoing is intended to disavow that the

and violence itself.

possibility of incarceration for committing a homicide has

76

some effect, however difficult to measure, on individual
Most people do not have actual knowledge of criminal

behavior and across society. That the consequences for

punishments and many people who are convicted of crimes

committing murder are severe is not a secret, and this

do not even consider the punishment before committing

undoubtedly seeps into peoples’ consciousness and

43

disincentivizes such violence. What the above discussion

As a justification for DBI, deterrence fails. Instead, the

suggests, however, is that the specific gradation of severity

continued growth of DBI sentences is best understood in

– be it 15 or 20 or 25 or 50 years in prison or life without the

light of the emotional salience of homicide offenses and the

possibility of parole – has no identifiable deterrent impact.

reflexive response by politicians to unleash ever-increasing

As has long been recognized, the swiftness and certainty

punitive measures on communities where poverty and

of a punishment, and not its severity, are the most relevant

violence have been structurally imposed. Deterrence fails as

factors in effective deterrence.

a legitimate justification for DBI sentences, instead serving as
a convenient means for avoiding examination and treatment
of the social and political origins of violence.

Retribution

U

The Ethic of Vengeance

nlike other traditional goals of punishment, retribution

the sentence is either death-by-execution or mandatory

is not intended to achieve a desired result. Deterrence,

death-by-incarceration—prosecutors can also pressure

for example, seeks to reduce future criminal offenses.

defendants to accept a mandatory DBI sentence in

Retribution, on the other hand, holds up punishment as a

exchange for the prosecution declining to pursue a death-

valuable goal in itself. The purpose of punishment is to

by-execution sentence. For some defendants, the chance

communicate that a particular action is wrong, while the

of receiving a death-by-execution sentence is perceived

severity of punishment is an expression of the severity of the

as too great a risk to leave in the hands of a jury.86 Kenneth

wrong.83 Central to retributive theory is that a punishment is

Hartmann, who is serving a DBI sentence in California and

imposed that is proportionate to the level of wrongdoing.

is a founder of The Other Death Penalty Project,87 echoes

Murder is typically regarded as the worst harm a person

the sentiment that those sentenced to DBI are typically not

can visit on another, so under a retributive theory of justice,

the “worst of the worst” or “the irredeemables” that popular

the harshest punishments ought to be imposed on those

opinion makes them out to be: “being sentenced to [DBI] is

convicted of murder.

much less a consequence of the severity of the crime than

82

44

84

one’s ability to procure adequate representation, his or her
Far from a principled imposition of the harshest punishment

socioeconomic status, and the color of his or her skin.”88

on those who commit the most heinous crimes, however,
over 99% of DBI sentences in Pennsylvania are imposed

While politicians and prosecutors frequently trumpet the

mandatorily—that is, without any consideration of the

narrative that harsh sentences like DBI are desired by

individual circumstances of each case. Mandatory DBI

victims’ families and best serve victims, victims themselves

sentences risk ensuring that many DBI sentences are

are far from monolithic in their desire to see the person

imposed on defendants who decline to testify against

convicted for killing their loved one imprisoned until death,

others or exercise their constitutional rights to a trial

and a criminal legal system that focuses primarily on

rather than accepting a plea deal for a lesser charge and

retribution and punishing the offender does not address

therefore lesser sentence. This risk is especially great for

what survivors and families need to heal from the trauma

defendants who are innocent, those who were less involved

they experience.89 What constitutes popularly accepted

in the offense and therefore have little information to offer

punishment for harmful behavior is a social construct that

prosecutors in exchange for a plea deal, and those who

varies widely across time and place and is largely based

simply opt to exercise their constitutional right to a jury trial.85

upon mechanisms or options that are already in place.90

For defendants charged with first-degree murder—where

A few centuries ago, execution alone was an insufficient

punishment for many crimes and public torture or mutilation

wrong when the people who owned the house came home.

was common.91 A 2016 survey from the Alliance for Safety

My son is incarcerated under the felony murder rule. He

and Justice found that 61% of crime victims prefer shorter

didn’t kill anyone, but he is sentenced to life in prison

prison sentences that focus on rehabilitation and increased

without the possibility of parole for committing a crime

spending on preventing crime rather than sentences that

alongside someone who took another’s life.

keep people incarcerated longer.92 Many survivors or victims
of crimes feel re-traumatized by a criminal legal system

	 Though I had already begun to question my stance on the

that seeks retributive sentences—which they often feel are

death penalty before my son was convicted, now that I have

focused primarily on the defendant—while services like

a loved one in prison, I fully realize that people can and do

mental health treatment and counseling for victims and

change – and that we need to leave room for that possibility

their families are virtually non-existent. Many victims who

at the time of sentencing.

93

initially seek retribution through punishment are ultimately
disappointed in the criminal legal system’s inability to make
them feel safer or provide the anticipated healing they
require.

	 Today, I fight for a second chance not only for my son but
also for the people who killed my brother.95

94

Ms. Haw is not unique in having lost a loved one to violence
A recent op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer poignantly and

and having a family member sentenced to DBI. The

powerfully expresses the transformation of one woman,

same communities that are often most impacted by DBI

Coalition Against Death by Incarceration (CADBI) member

sentences are also often the most impacted by violence. The

Lorraine Haw, from supporting the death penalty for the man

experience is common among many members of CADBI, a

who killed her brother to becoming an advocate against

statewide organization founded in Philadelphia to end DBI.

both the death penalty and life without the possibility of

Similarly, those who have been incarcerated or those who

parole:

interact with incarcerated people will readily attest to the

	

frequency with which they meet people who have been both

	 Many years ago, my brother was senselessly ripped from
this world. I was furious at the man who took his life, and I

victims and perpetrators of harm, including losing loved
ones to homicide and committing homicide.

wanted him to suffer the same fate my brother had. I wanted
him to be put to death and was relieved when he received

In a powerful Amicus Curiae brief submitted to the U.S.

the death penalty at trial.

Supreme Court on behalf of “Certain Family Members of
Victims Killed by Youths in Support of Petitioner” in support

	 But over time, my perspective has changed. I now believe

of parole eligibility for juveniles sentenced to DBI, the

that the death penalty is morally wrong and that we must

inadequacy of a DBI sentence to do justice to the memory of

support sentencing that allows those who perpetrate harm

the victims and their families is expressed cogently:

to learn and change.
	 Life without the possibility of parole is permanent
	 The media often talk about those who are sentenced to

retribution – an “eye-for-an-eye” punishment that belies

die in prison and the families of victims as though they are

everything Amici’s loved ones stood for: mercy, fairness, and

distinct and opposing groups. But the reality is that many

redemption. Failing to apply Miller retroactively forecloses

families have lost loved ones both to gun violence and to

the possibility that these children can grow into mature

death by incarceration.

adults who recognize the value of the lives they took, express
true remorse for their actions, and prove themselves capable

	 A few years after my brother was killed, my son was
arrested. His co-defendant killed someone during a
burglary of a drug house – a burglary that went terribly

of returning to society and doing the good the murder
victims can no longer do.96

45

CASE PROFILE

Phillip “Photo” Ocampo
When Phillip Ocampo, known as Photo,
was 18 years-old he participated in
a robbery gone horribly wrong in
Philadelphia. Photo shot and wounded
one person, and his co-defendant
shot and killed another. Convicted
of second-degree homicide and

46

Photo is a
transformed
person
today.

Though I had already begun to question
my stance on the death penalty before my
son was convicted, now that I have a loved
one in prison, I fully realize that people
can and do change – and that we need to
leave room for that possibility at the time
of sentencing. Today, I fight for a second

sentenced to DBI 22 years ago, Photo

chance not only for my son but also for the

is a transformed person today. He was

people who killed my brother.97

recently selected to be a mentor
to a group of adolescents and has
worked as an aide in the prison’s
Special Needs Unit, assisting men
with mental health conditions.
Photo also volunteers at the
hospice at SCI Smithfield, assisting
incarcerated people with terminal
illnesses, and trains puppies for
people with disabilities.

Haw, affectionately known as Mrs.

Photo and Mrs. DeeDee are an
example of how families do the
time together – and build the
movement for justice together.

DeeDee in the Philadelphia social

Hundreds of families with members

justice community, has become a

inside and outside the prisons have

tireless advocate and leader for a

labored mightily in building CADBI:

complete overhaul of the criminal

holding meetings, preparing meals for

legal system. She began organizing

conferences, organizing marches and

with the Coalition to Abolish Death By

rallies, carpooling to faraway prisons,

Incarceration (CADBI) in 2016. In 2017

sharing information and hope over

she also became a leading voice in

15-minute phone calls, putting down

the Coalition for a Just DA, a powerful

commissary money, meeting with

formation of grassroots organizations

legislators, protesting Seth Williams,

that pushed the candidates for

and so much more. Family and

Philadelphia District Attorney to adopt a

community, in all their forms, are at the

decarceration platform.

heart of this movement and exemplified

Photo is not the only one in his family
who has been profoundly transformed
by this experience. His mother, Lorraine

by the likes of Photo and Mrs. DeeDee.
Although inspired and motivated in part
by her longing to see Photo walk out
of prison, Mrs. DeeDee’s commitment
to ending DBI is radically inclusive of
all who are serving DBI – even the man
who killed her own brother.

The remainder of the brief features stories that “begin with

	 The death penalty is morally wrong.

heartbreak and conclude with reconciliation, redemption,
and rejuvenation.”98 While such stories of transformation

	 Just as we should not torture people, we should not kill

and redemption cannot be prescribed to anybody who has

them, and we should not lock them away forever. We should

suffered the loss of a loved one, they certainly should not

give people the tools and the opportunity to change for

be foreclosed. DBI sentences, by permanently banishing the

the better, and have them try to make up for the harm they

person who committed the homicide from social life and

caused. We call it the Department of Corrections rather than

restoration to the community, forecloses the possibility of

the Department of Revenge for a reason.99

the meaningful atonement and redemption that embodies
recognition of the harm caused. Many victims’ family

Distinct from the alleged utilitarian objective of deterrence

members want precisely this: that the person who took their

theory, the retributive case for DBI persists independent

loved one’s life recognizes the immensity of the loss and

of its impact on the punished individual or the broader

changes their own life to serve others and be a force for

community, including victims. Other responses to

positive change in the world.

homicide, including policies that direct material resources,
programmatic responses, and medical and mental health

From the perspective of those like Ms. Haw, the retributive

services to impacted individuals and communities, are

logic of DBI sentences is not simply wrong because it is

eschewed in favor of an ethic of vengeance that ultimately

applied unfairly or too broadly; instead, it is wrong because

increases the power of prosecutors and institutions

retribution and punishment are morally inferior and in every

of policing and punishment at the expense of those

way less desirable than redemption and healing. In her own

communities already impoverished, disenfranchised,

words:

marginalized, and disproportionately impacted by homicide.
That the ethic of vengeance may be an understandable

	 If the courts had honored my wishes initially, the person who

human response to a murder, especially when somebody

murdered my brother would be dead. But I’m glad he isn’t.

loses their own loved one, does not suffice to elevate this

Today, I’d like to have a dialogue with the person who took

emotion to a position of enlightened public policy. Instead,

my brother’s life. I want justice that recognizes the possibility

the instrumentalization of the ethic of vengeance by

of transformation and healing; not just for those who have

politicians and prosecutors should be recognized as the evil

committed harm, but for those of us who have been harmed,

that it is, empowering the powerful and afflicting the afflicted,

who have survived violence, or lost our loved ones to

claiming a moral superiority it does not possess, arrogating

violence.

to itself an exclusive primacy in responding to an epidemic
of violence that retribution is incapable of curing.

	 I believe that society should set a limit on the kind of
punishment it can dish out. Once upon a time, we tortured
people to punish them, but then we decided that was wrong.
Today, if someone said at trial, “I’d like you to torture the
person who killed my brother,” we would say: “We are sorry
for your loss, and you are right to be furious, but we cannot
do that.” . . .

47

Prison as a Place of Quarantine
and Social Death

Incapacitation

A

long with the retribution rationale, DBI sentences

homicides, the age of involvement peaks between ages 20

are perhaps most often justified by proponents as

and 24, sharply and steadily declining thereafter, such that

a means of protecting public safety by incapacitating a

only approximately 5% of people involved in homicides are

dangerous person. The rationale for this justification is that

between ages 45 and 49.103 One recent study found that

those who are sentenced to DBI are likely to kill or harm

among people who were previously convicted of a crime,

people if they are ever released, so by placing them in

those who are older than 55 are ten times less likely to

prison, where they are only likely to harm other incarcerated

commit another crime than 23 year olds.104

people, the general public is better protected. In this

48

analysis, individuals who commit violence are perceived as

Recidivism rates are also low for people convicted of

an infectious agent within the larger social body who are

homicide offenses and those released from prison who

put in prison as a form of quarantine designed to prevent

were sentenced to some form of life sentence. Across the

further spread of the contagion. DBI imposes a form of

country, people released from a life sentence in 1994 were

social death that permanently renders those serving this

less than one-third as likely to be rearrested within three

sentence to a degraded legal, social, and political status,

years of their release compared to the overall rearrest

never able to regain and exercise the full panoply of human

rate within that time span.105 In Pennsylvania, only 2.5% of

rights. Incapacitation theory assumes, without proof or often

people who were released after their life sentences were

any inquiry into the subject, that people sentenced to DBI

commuted between 1933-2005 were ever reincarcerated

are irredeemable or incapable of refraining from harming

for a new criminal conviction.106 For those whose sentences

others for the rest of their lives, so it is better to remove the

were commuted when they were at least 50 years old, only

possibility of release for everyone given a life sentence.

one out of 99 was reincarcerated for any reason.107 More

100

In postulating a justification for incarceration as a place of

recently in Pennsylvania, out of 111 people released from

quarantine and social death these proponents negate the

prison who were initially sentenced to DBI for homicide

profoundly social determinants of crime and violence, again

offenses committed when they were juveniles, only one has

deflecting attention from analyses, policies, and reforms that

been rearrested or reincarcerated as of April 27, 2018.108 A

implicate the existing distribution of social, economic, and

study of 368 people convicted of murder in New York found

political power.

that none were incarcerated for a new violent offense within
three years of their release from prison.109 In California, out

Like the deterrence rationale, incapacitation arguments

of 860 people who were paroled between 1995-2011 after

assume that a primary cause of violence is the individual

being convicted of murder, less than one percent were

pathology of those who engage in harmful acts, rather

reincarcerated for a new felony conviction, and none were

than treating violence as a collective problem with

convicted of crimes eligible for a life sentence.110 After the

roots embedded in social and economic issues. In truth,

Supreme Court temporarily issued a moratorium on death

releasing or providing a meaningful prospect of release to

sentences in 1974,111 many people who were sentenced to

those sentenced to DBI poses little risk to public safety.

death-by-execution had these sentences commuted. Only

Engaging in violent and harmful antisocial behavior is

5% of those whose death sentences were vacated and were

strongly correlated with youth. Studies conclusively show

subsequently released on parole committed another violent

that the risk of people harming others diminishes greatly

offense, while only one person out of 239 was convicted of

as people age,101 and begins dropping dramatically in late

murder after being paroled.112

adolescence and early adulthood.

102

For people involved in

Theory vs. Reality

I

The Practical Functions of DBI

n a system that focuses almost exclusively on inflicting

from these communities as “distinctly irredeemable.”120 The

maximum harm on those convicted of criminal offenses

costs of incarceration on these communities are often of

and functions primarily as a tool to exclude those deemed

the type that are difficult to measure—disrupted familial and

undesirable or unworthy from participation in mainstream

social relationships, lost wages and employment, medical

society, death-by-incarceration is the ideal form of

and mental health problems incidental to incarceration,

punishment. Although the exclusionary effects of any duration

excessive costs imposed by courts and prison phone and

of incarceration extend beyond prison walls, condemning a

commissary vendors, discrimination in labor markets and

person to die in prison is “the most obvious and expeditious

educational opportunities post-release—but are real and

way to effect permanent exclusion.”

113

DBI sentences express

harmful. DBI sentences in particular exacerbate these costs

the message that those suffering this sentence are beyond

by virtue of the permanent nature of the exclusion from

redemption, unfit to live in society, and that society itself is

these communities and the outsized proportion of people

indifferent to their fate—we do not care whether someone

serving DBI sentences who are Black, even in relation to the

sentenced to death-by-incarceration pursues education

already disproportionate overall incarceration rates.

or vocational training, undergoes tremendous personal
growth, or constantly engages in pro-social community work
because no matter what, their life is forfeit. In these ways, DBI
sentences are akin to the ancient punishment of banishment.
Rather than banishing people to spend the rest of their lives
outside of our borders, we banish them to prisons, where they
by and large become “faceless and numbered and forgotten”
to most of society.114 The U.S. Supreme Court forbade a
more modern form banishment—stripping a U.S. citizen of
citizenship—in 1958 because it constituted cruel and unusual
punishment.115 Such a punishment, the Court wrote, is an
affront to a person’s dignity because it represents “the total
destruction of the individual’s status in organized society” and
is “more primitive than torture.”116 Yet, another modern form of
banishment—death-by-incarceration—is being imposed with
astounding frequency, particularly upon people of color and
poor communities.117
The effects of this permanent exclusion function of DBI
are not only experienced by the people serving these
sentences. People sentenced to DBI are frequently
depicted as subhuman and incapable of experiencing
remorse, sympathy or other basic human emotions, and
hopelessly incapable of personal change or redemption.118
Given the groups of people most likely to be serving
DBI sentences—those who are incarcerated under any
sentence are disproportionately people with mental health
conditions, indigent, dependent on drugs and/or people of
color119—the prevalence of DBI sentences brand offenders

Banishing such a large number
of people to prisons for the rest
of their lives also deprives these
communities of the influence and
guidance of those who, contrary to
the societal brand imposed upon
them, have proven themselves to be
redeemable and adept at facilitating
the redemption of others.
Even without any meaningful prospect of release from their
living tombs, many people serving DBI “doggedly seek
purpose in their lives,”121 focusing on volunteer and mentor
work, religion, and remaining free of disciplinary issues in
prison.122 People serving life sentences are often among
the least likely to commit rules infractions in prisons—
particularly those involving violence,123 despite an often
oppressive and violent environment.124
The conditions of prisons also contradict the idea that
incarceration under a DBI sentence is intended to
meaningfully contribute to justice, the well-being of either
the incarcerated person or those they have harmed, or even
respect for basic human dignity. Prisons are characterized

49

by a lack of substantial educational or vocational options,

of accountability or mechanisms for facilitating justice for

inadequate medical and mental health treatment,

both survivors and offenders are consistent with the notion

close authoritarian control of every aspect of daily life,

that death-by-incarceration sentences function primarily to

overcrowding and absence of personal space, pervasive use

exclude, disenfranchise, and inflict maximal harm.131

of solitary confinement, a constant possibility of violence
from fellow incarcerated people and guards, and an
expectation of hypermasculinity in male prisons.

125

A lifetime

of incarceration, especially under these conditions, can be
like “a death in slow motion.”

126

Prison also fails to promote

accountability for those who have harmed others or facilitate
necessary healing processes.

127

People incarcerated for

consistent with the notion that DBI sentences deny basic
human dignity to those sentenced to DBI—they are not
regarded as “fellow citizens and fellow human beings.”132
The concept of dignity—recognizing the intrinsic value of a
person—is largely absent from U.S. legal standards regarding

the rest of their lives are unable to fully acknowledge

punishment. In many other jurisdictions around the world,

responsibility for the harm, acknowledge the impact of their

however, dignity functions as a fundamental constraint

actions on others, express genuine remorse, take measures

on punishment and as a basic component of human

to repair the harm as much as possible, or demonstrate a

rights.133 Death-by-incarceration sentences are widely

commitment to refraining from causing similar harm.128 By

regarded as denials of human dignity and are therefore

simply removing someone to prison—especially for the rest

prohibited in much of the rest of the world.134 Even without

of their life—we deprive them of the opportunity to deal

prison conditions that belie any professed commitment to

face-to-face with the impact of their actions and to begin

reintegration into society, DBI sentences impose a judgment

the difficult work of atoning for them.

50

Subjecting people to such conditions until death is also

129

Prison conditions

that a person’s life no longer has any value. Like death-by-

that provide for little more than “bare biological life” for

execution sentences, DBI sentences deny any possibility of

those sentenced to death-by-incarceration130 and a lack

redemption and any meaningful hope of release from prison.

Toward Redemption and Restorative Justice

A

bsent from the traditional justifications for imposing

To end DBI sentences we need to recognize that the

criminal punishments in the DBI context is

fundamental fallacy of all the justifications discussed

rehabilitation. The 1970s marked a noticeable shift in political

above is the negation of the humanity of the person who

rhetoric and points of emphasis around the criminal legal

has committed harm. The perpetual criminalization, the

system. Discussion of prisons as places of rehabilitation

permanent stigma, the fear and degradation that are

was replaced with commitments to punish as harshly as

attached to those serving DBI sentences are not rooted

possible and as frequently as possible. Although prisons

in the complex lives and personalities of those who have

never actually functioned as rehabilitative facilities, there

committed serious harm, including murder.

was nonetheless a rhetorical commitment to the notion that

The transformation proposed at the end of this report

society’s interests were best served if incarcerated people

is rooted in the lived experiences of those who have

were given the tools and treatment necessary to be able

walked the walk and transformed their lives in spite of a

to avoid future conduct that violated the law. Furthermore,

DBI sentence that forswears altogether the rehabilitative

“commitment to the rehabilitative ideal at least signaled a

ideal. Transitioning to a criminal legal system that centers

recognition…that penal subjects were fellow human beings…

redemption and restoration to the community requires

Death-by-

involving incarcerated people as full participants in asserting

incarceration sentences, however, “forswear altogether the

their humanity, developing their capabilities and talents, and

thought to be capable of change and growth.”
rehabilitative ideal”

136

135

and reflect the judgment that a person

is never fit to rejoin their communities and their families
outside of prison.

being permitted to serve their families and communities.

CASE PROFILE

Felix “Phill” Rosado
Originally from Reading, PA, I have been
fighting a death by incarceration sentence
at Graterford State Prison since 1995 and
age 18. At one time a straight-A student
and deemed gifted, in my teen years I got
sucked into the streets and was never
able to pull myself out. Once in prison,
I learned that a “life” sentence means
death and then spent the first few years
trying everything I could to avoid thinking
about the possibility of growing old and
dying behind bars. I got into some trouble
here and there—and then in my mid-20s
“woke up.” I rediscovered the Catholic
Faith of my upbringing and shifted my
focus from myself to helping others. I

I came to
realize that
my individual
struggle for
freedom is
inextricably
tied to the
collective
liberation of
all people

wrote and self published a short autobio
to warn the youth in my community of the
real consequences of street life, began

At some point throughout my

talking with boys from a nearby juvenile

transformation I came to realize that

hall who were brought into the prison,

my individual struggle for freedom is

and enrolled in both a bachelor’s
degree program through Villanova
University and the Inside Out Prison
Exchange Program through Temple
University. I also cofounded Let’s
Circle Up, a restorative justice
project, and began facilitating and
co-coordinating the Alternatives to
Violence Project. In 2016 I earned my
Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies
degree, summa cum laude.

inextricably tied to the collective liberation
of all people and became a founding
member of Right 2 Redemption, a
committee that seeks to end the practice
of caging humans without the possibility
of ever being worthy of life outside prison
walls. My vision is of a world where the
dignity of all is recognized and valued—
without exception.”

Phill is a leader in the restorative
justice movement, a practitioner
in a location where the obstacles
to accountability and healing are
daunting, yet the results of every
breakthrough are potentially
revolutionary. As a co-founder of
the restorative justice project Let’s
Circle Up, Phill has facilitated more
than 1,000 men through restorative
justice education workshops since its
inception. He has done this without pay,
without anybody asking him to, without
the incentive of parole eligibility.

Motivated by the recognition that
personal and social transformation
are inextricably linked and a
commitment to making his wrongs
“more right”, he has dedicated
himself to service, education, and
advocacy for justice.

51

52

III. IN THEIR
OWN WORDS
In constructing this report, we sent questionnaires to
approximately 100 people serving death by incarceration
sentences in Pennsylvania. The questionnaire included
22 open-ended questions covering the respondents’ lives
before they were incarcerated, their experiences serving
DBI sentences, their feelings about the sentence, and
what they felt was most important to them. Many of the
responses of those serving DBI sentences in Pennsylvania
echo the research and statistics detailed above. Unless
otherwise indicated, the quotations below are taken
verbatim from the responses provided. More than 40
people responded to the survey.

53

Childhood/Early Life

M

ost of those who responded to the questionnaire
were 25 years old or younger when the offense

	 The police, and white folks in general, had a way of making
us feel powerless, degraded, less human, and there was a

for which they were convicted occurred. Many described

constant feeling of rebellion dancing in my soul because

childhood environments characterized by poverty,

the desire for self-empowerment was powerful. The pain

normalized violence, or negative peer or familial influences.

associated with a reality full of powerlessness goes beyond

Changa Asa Ramu wrote that he feels “it’s truly cruel and

verbal expression, and for me the anguish of my youth was

harsh to be condemned for being fearful for my own life.

very deep.

Whether it was realistic fear or imagined, at 19 years old you’re

54

controlled by your understanding and environment. When all

Some of those who responded to the questionnaire

you see are friends getting shot and killed, those threats will

described a slow descent into antisocial behavior, often

supersede your rationale.” Zechariah Thompson described

beginning during their early teenage years. Kevin Kelly

his childhood as “very dysfunctional.” He continued, “I lost

wrote that he and his siblings were separated and placed

my father at age 14. I grew up in a drug atmosphere, mother

in different institutions due to his stepfather’s abuse of his

an addict, father died from a heart failure from cocaine. I took

mother. After his family was separated, Kevin wrote, “I have

care of my infant sister, my mom would be gone for weeks at a

spent most of my life in and out of juvenile and adult prisons

time… I never had a permanent home, I was in 7 foster homes.”

where I have pleaded guilty to crimes that I have committed...
accepting responsibility and doing my time. I have also taken

Nicole Newell wrote: “Growing up in the projects was filled

and accepted responsibility for crimes I didn’t do because I

with drugs and drive bys. My mother did the best she could

was unable to pay for proper representation and wanted to get

through her addiction. She made sure we had a roof over our

out and try and acclimate myself back in society only to wind

heads, clothes on our backs, and food on the table. When she

up committing crime again just to survive.” Changa Asa Ramu

couldn’t get what drug she wanted she became very abusive

wrote, “I was a impoverish youth who learnt how to make ends

towards me. It started off being once a week then as I got older

meet by hustling in the street. These hustles were innocent in

it was very often. I [was] a very lost child that was raising a

the beginning, then grew into petty criminal activity which led

daughter.”

to juvenile detention and became a cycle all the way into my
adult years… The street life and criminal culture molded my

David Lee described the feelings and effects associated with

values and principles.”

growing up in these conditions:
Haddrick Byrd wrote that his family was forced to move
	 I grew up in a North Philly community, and although I had

to a different neighborhood when he was 16 years old

both parents at home throughout my childhood we were

because his mother could no longer afford the home where

very poor, and I had dreams of obtaining wealth and power

they were living. After moving, he wrote that “my life took a

in order to change our condition... Police brutality was a

drastic change. Because I was going to a school in another

consistent theme in my youth because they had a view-point

neighborhood I was confronted with violence by an opposing

that criminalized Black youth...

gang. So that lead me to start hanging out with the gang I
joined, and eventually I stopped going to school and started

	 Gang wars were also a regular theme in my youth, I was not

getting into trouble.” Zechariah Thompson wrote, “I used to

old enough to participate in those actions, but they were a

think I could do what I wanted because I was left alone, so I

part of my thinking because my older brother was connected

got into trouble, getting high, stealing, fighting. I always used

to the local gang. Fear of early death, of being hungry, or

my hardships as an excuse to do things that were wrong. I

just not being seen as a human being touched my thoughts

had my first child at 16, I was also an addict at this time, all

in a profound manner.

I wanted to do is feel numb.” One person serving DBI who

wished to remain anonymous wrote, “before my incarceration

Many women who responded to the questionnaire were

I had succumb to some of the same negative things I once

subjected to pervasive abuse and trauma during their

witness as a child. I’ve sold drugs off and on since the age of

childhoods and early lives. Char Pfender wrote:

twelve, and indulged in some of the same acts of drug abuse
and violence until I got involved in this case that brought me to
prison.”

	 I grew up idolizing my father, until he lost his job from a back
injury…Because his life went in the wrong direction, the only
thing he could control was his family. When he needed to

Phillip Ocampo wrote that he began caring much more

feel control he beat my mother, sister, and myself...When

about the opinions of his peers as he got into his teenage

I got older I started to resist, take beatings for my sister,

years, and began emulating what he saw from others:

interfere in my mother’s beatings and learned to turn off pain
so that he couldn’t even make me cry no matter how much

	 I started to break rules that my grandmother set for me… I
would not come home until the next day, hanging out with

he beat me. That threatened his control, so he began to
molest me.

the thugs and hustlers on the block. I wanted what they
had, so I began to get involved in the drug game. First as

Henrietta Harris described the effect that abusive

a lookout for the cops, then as a hustler selling the drugs.

relationships had on her well-being: “My life before my

I was out of control, so eventually I started to stay out in

incarceration was a troubled one. I was in and out of abusive

the streets, not wanting to cause my grandmom stress,

relationships, I used alcohol and other drugs to forget my

not knowing at the time, that’s exactly what I was doing… I

problems and to help fill a void I’d felt most of my life. I felt

was around 15 years old at the time. I eventually started to

worthless, unlovable, confused, broken.”

carry a gun, not wanting to get rob by stick up kids… I ended
up falling in love with a girl who would eventually become

Kristin Edmundson wrote that she was emotionally and

the mother of my first child… [My daughter’s birth] was the

physically abused by a family member during her childhood,

happiest day of my life at 17 years old. But not even her birth

with whom she has since reconciled. She continued:

could pull me away from the street life. I got to only be in her
life for 1 year before I got a life sentence.”

	 Growing up in a small town and being openly Gay did not
help much with my emotional well being nor my mental

Felix Rosado described losing interest in school during

well being... I was not only ‘picked on’ by my fellow peers

his early teenage years after his family moved to a

but teachers as well… A few months after [high school]

neighborhood that they believed was safer, but was near a

graduation I embarked on my new life, which basically led

busy drug trafficking area:

me into an abusive relationship. Those were the two years
where my life went into a downward spiral which led me to

	 Much more captivating [than school] was who I saw on the

make horrendous decisions and choices.

way to and from school—the cars, clothes, girls, women.
At some point I started shoplifting, then breaking into cars,

Sheena King also wrote about the effects of abuse and

then stealing cars, then making my first cocaine sale... It all

trauma inflicted from a young age:

happened fairly quickly, from my first drug sale at age 14-15
to murder at 18. I disappointed a lot of people who had high

	 I am/was the oldest of 3 siblings... I was the protector and

hopes for me—family, teachers, neighbors, even probation

when I was molested repeatedly by the stepfather from

officers. I didn’t know at the time that Reading was among

ages 9-12, my protection of my sisters became much more

the most impoverished cities in the US, that I was part of a

intense/extreme. Because of the abuse in my home and my

larger social narrative that was playing out in inner cities

mother working 2-3 jobs, I withdrew into myself. I had no self-

across the country. I got sucked into a merciless lifestyle

esteem or self-worth. I was basically consumed with anger,

that then tossed me into a merciless system, where over 2

shame, and guilt. I didn’t have a life before incarceration, I

decades later I’m still stuck.”

was just existing.”

55

Beginning of Sentence

A

fter being sentenced to death-by-incarceration,

I destroyed, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend it all…After

most of those who responded to the questionnaire

a while I had given up on myself pretty much completely.”

described a difficult adjustment period to serving their

Sheena King described similar feelings: “I felt fear that I tried

sentence in the Department of Corrections. Because so

to hide behind a tough girl exterior but more than anything, I

many began serving the sentences at young ages, they

felt so much shame and guilt from what I had done. I really

described the struggles associated with being forced to

didn’t have a desire to live.” Felix Rosado described the

grow up in prison. Many expressed feelings of denial, shame

difficulty in confronting the consequences of his actions and

or guilt, and depression, and often acted out or became

his sentence: “After discovering that my sentence was indeed

withdrawn.

a death sentence, I regretted pleading guilty and resented my
trial attorney for convincing me that I’d be eligible for release

Phillip Ocampo wrote: “I was still in a denial phase and not

after some years. This made me bitter and as a result I wasn’t

believing that I was going to spend the rest of my life in prison. I

able to focus on the harm I’d caused and what I needed to do

tried to just ignore the reality of my sentence… I had to learn the

to improve myself and grow as a human being.”

do’s and dont’s of prison life, which was another world in itself…

56

It was definitely frightening for a teenager.” Haddrick Byrd

Many of the people who responded to the questionnaire

expressed similar sentiments: “When I first started serving my

also expressed feelings of depression at the beginning of

sentence, I was in a state of disbelief that I had been given a

their sentences. Zechariah Thompson wrote: “I felt like my

[DBI sentence]. Because I was only 21 years of age, and so my

life was over, I became severely depressed, scared, and lost

life hadn’t really started to begin due to my immaturity and

interest in most things very quickly. I wished I could just sleep

lack of social skills.” Nicole Newell wrote: “When I first started

forever and wish I’d wake up and it would be a dream.” Oscar

serving my sentence I was very angry, bitter, had this I don’t

Cintora recalled similar feelings: “I felt like my whole life was

care attitude… I made the beginning of my time hard. I was 20

over...sometimes I even thought that it was better to switch

when I came to Muncy, being a follower, doing dumb things

places with our victim, it would have saved a lot of grief to

to get myself in trouble.” Char Pfender experienced a similar

many people, his family and my family, yes my family would

adjustment period: “When I first started doing this time, I was

have suffered my death, but after a while they would continue

angry, confused, resentful... I acted out and got in trouble a

their lives.” Henrietta Harris felt “numb, angry, sad” at the

lot for about a year.” Changa Asa Ramu wrote: “I became

beginning of her sentence. She continued: “When I arrived at

rebellious and miserable, breaking prison rules and ending up

SCI Muncy to begin this sentence, I was 7 ½ months pregnant

in disciplinary confinement and cell restriction a lot.”

with my third son. I cried a lot, was depressed... I started to feel
hopeless.” Paula Johnson went through similar experiences:

Kristin Edmundson wrote that she felt a lack of hope and

“I was extremely depressed at first and for a while. I was in the

that life had no point at the beginning of her sentence.

Mental Health Unit off and on... While I was at the M.H.U. I was

She continued, “I was just trying to adjust to everything.

put on depression medicine.”

The realization of what I had done, how many peoples lives

CASE PROFILE

Sheena King
With my passion for and knowledge
and experience of surviving sexual
abuse and domestic violence, I am
certain that I would be an asset
in helping others to overcome the
traumas of childhood incest and
abuse.”
Many of those serving DBI sentences
have transformed their lives and
become exemplary leaders, teachers,
educators. Sheena King, president of
the Inmate Organization at SCI Muncy,
is one of them.

If given the
opportunity
to be released,
Sheena will
continue her
amazing,
necessary, lifesaving work
with survivors.

Sexual molestation, rape and violence

An accomplished writer, Sheena has
been published in six poetry anthologies
and published two books. In 2014, Sheena
completed her memoir, Submerged. In
the introduction she writes:
“The number of children that have been
sexually abused is staggering. The
long-term effects of child molestation
and abuse on children is devastatingly
depressing. We cannot pretend that it
doesn’t happen or close our eyes to the
truth. You may have suffered at the hands
of an adult in the past or you may be living
through that nightmare right now. You’re
not alone. Perhaps you love someone who

at the hands of her step-father began

Sheena has gone through intensive

is now trying to cope with the debilitating

when Sheena was 9 years old. The

therapy during her incarceration,

effects of trauma. You don’t know how to

devastating trauma visited upon her

grappling with the trauma she

help. Your mind can’t conceive of what she

countless times set her on a course

experienced as a child, and becoming

or he has been through. You’re not alone. . .

where she was vulnerable to emotional

a leader and mentor to countless other

. If it happened to you, this story is for you. If

manipulation and threats of violence,

women who survived childhood sexual

it happened to someone you love, this story

particularly from abusive men. When

abuse. As a peer counselor in the House

is for you. If you want to help yourself or

she was 18 years old, Sheena was

of Hope program for survivors of sexual

someone else, this story is for you.”

ordered to commit a murder by the man

violence she has conducted client

she was seeing under threat of harm to

interviews; designed and produced

Never minimizing or losing sight of the

her mother and child. Sheena sincerely

exposure therapy exercises; counseled

crime that she committed, Sheena

believed the choice was between her

individuals and provided group

has accepted responsibility, dealt with

family or this unknown victim. The

services; conducted record reviews and

her traumatic past, shown exponential

man who ordered Sheena to commit

participated in client evaluation with

personal growth and become a woman

the homicide was never prosecuted,

other professionals; assisted clients in

that anyone (incarcerated or not) could

even though Sheena was successfully

identifying and solving problems and

look up to as a role model. If given the

prosecuted for conspiring with him to

achieving personal, family, and marital

opportunity to be released, Sheena will

commit murder by the Philadelphia

development; trained and managed 16

continue her amazing, necessary, life-

District Attorney’s Office.

graduates in their becoming program

saving work with survivors.

counselors; assisted individuals in
Upon arrest Sheena confessed and

understanding and overcoming social,

has felt profound remorse ever since,

sexual, and emotional problems; and

seeking to atone through a life of

much more.

service.

57

Maturity

A

fter the initial adjustment period, most respondents

thinker not so fast to react.” Another expressed similar growth:

described a period of maturity, transformation, and

“I’ve matured a lot over the years. I am more poised. I no longer

tremendous personal growth. Paula Johnson wrote that she

think in the same ways I use to. I’ve learned to put my priorities

received a number of misconducts during her first 8 or 9

in order.”

months in prison. Since then, she wrote that she has been

58

“misconduct free now 17 ½ years.” Zechariah Thompson wrote:

Saadiq Palmer wrote: “I’ve become more aware and conscious

“Today, I think as a man instead of an immature person. I

of other people’s feeling. I’ve developed a level of selflessness

thought I knew everything, had everything figured out. Today, I

that I don’t think I would have ever been able to reach. I’ve

listen instead of ‘hear’. I take heed of any criticism, I don’t even

changed in so many ways because I was forced to see life

have the same way of thinking. If I were to be released today, I

through a different set of lenses. Maturing on the inside is a

know I would never return to prison.” Haddrick Byrd described

whole lot different from maturing on the outside.” Similarly,

his transformation: “I had to look closely at the way I was

Phillip Ocampo wrote: “I went from an immature teenager

living, and come to grips with the fact that I was functioning

that only worried about himself, not caring about what others

only to satisfy my desires, and to look good in the eyes of other

thought or their opinions. I didn’t care about other peoples

people in order to maintain a false image. Therefore, it became

feelings only my own. I realized that my actions not only hurt

clear to me that I had to make a change in my life, and by the

myself, but also others as well, especially those that love me…

Grace and Mercy of Allah (God), I no longer portray the person

I had to change my thought process and realize that I had to

or act the way that I once did.”

treat others the way that I would like to be treated. I had to
learn that in order to get respect, you must give it.”

Kevin Kelly wrote that he now values life and living, but when
he was younger “I was reckless and uncaring in my actions

Sheena King wrote that she initially felt like she deserved

and way of seeing things in life. I’m more patient and I evaluate

to die in prison. She continued: “When I matured and began

things better before acting.” Similarly, Malakki Bolden wrote:

to live with purpose after doing intensive work on myself,

“My respect for the sanctity of life has blossomed in me to

I felt like I had so much to offer and I wanted a chance to

harvest a non-violent way of being. I share this energy with

make my life count.” Felix Rosado wrote, “at age 27, I woke

others and I insist to them that taking a life and hurting others

up—to put it mildly.” He partially attributes his transformation

does more to hurt yourself and your loved ones than you can

to an encounter with a childhood friend while Felix was

fathom.”

serving time in solitary confinement. Felix’s friend, who was
incarcerated in permanent solitary confinement on death

Many respondents wrote that, as they’ve matured, they take

row, said that “he’d do anything to just hug and kiss his 5

more time to think about their actions and their outlook.

sons and father, come out of his cell every morning, uncuffed,

Many also describe being more selfless and thinking about

and in his own word, ‘breathe’—which he’d be able to do if he

themselves as part of a larger community.

were in my situation.” Felix wrote that this encounter “shifted
my perspective and pushed me to take advantage of the

Nicole Newell said: “I don’t think destructively or in a harmful

opportunities I had... And at some point, I concluded that my

manner any more. It’s not ‘if a person do something to me get

individual fight is inextricably tied to a much larger struggle.”

them back’, it’s now, if a person do something to me I’ll give
it a few days then talk to that person to get a understanding

Respondents attributed their personal growth and maturity

and do something different (positive). It’s not worth holding

to a number of different factors, often in combination. Some

on to bitterness, hatred, or anger... I’m just at peace with my

recognized their growth as a natural product of growing

demons. I learned how to forgive and move on.” One person

older. Many of those serving DBI, particularly women,

who wished to remain anonymous wrote: “I am more of a

stressed that their ability to confront and heal from past

trauma and the development of identity and self-worth were

and I use all of those lessons as I move forward in the pursuit

critical to their growth and ability to deal with problems in

of justice, collective empowerment, and liberation in American

healthy ways. Nicole Newell cited programs that addressed

society.” Zechariah Thompson wrote: “I learned how to deal

dealing with anger, violence prevention, and abuse as

with pain without drugs; and I’m kind of religious about

facilitating healing and growth: “I didn’t know how to control

walking the way a man should.”

my anger, or deal with the pain of my child/teen years. I now
use the tools to help others cope that’s dealing with the same

Some respondents also attributed their growth to strong

or similar issues I was dealing with years ago.”

relationships with mentors in prison, development of
religious or spiritual beliefs, education, or various programs.

Char Pfender described a “metamorphosis” in dealing with
the effects of childhood abuse: “It really shaped me growing

Char Pfender described the effect of having a mentor.

up. As I went through abuse programs and learned it wasn’t

Char wrote that she regularly got into trouble during the

my fault and reasons abuse happens, I was able to start to

first year of her incarceration, “until I got into school and an

love myself and not feel shame all the time. I began having

apprenticeship and learned I was smart and had skills with

trusting relationships, growing closer to my family. I am able to

my hands. I started creating furniture and was experiencing

forgive and give love freely to others. Finding salvation was the

pride in myself. My boss...would talk me through my feelings of

icing on the cake and beginning and ending my day in the right

anger, hopelessness, fear, not knowing how to be an adult in

frame of mind helps me cope with whatever the day brings.

an adult facility... He changed how I approached all of life.”

That has helped me tremendously in facing my problems head

Kristin Edmundson wrote that through some of the programs

on.”

she has participated in, “I have learned to be able to love
myself, to work on my insecurities and deal with problems in a

Henrietta Harris described a substantial change in how she

productive and healthy manner.” Henrietta Harris also found

processes and deals with life issues: “I can relate to others in

substantial value in some of the programs she completed:

a different way now that I’ve addressed issues that caused my

“My most important programs were Violence Prevention, The

pain and hurt... I understand now [that] back then I was coping

Abuse Program, and [Alcohol and Other Drugs]. Those three

the best I knew how. I’ve learned new ways of coping and

programs are helpful to me daily. I think before I speak, I no

these new ways are positive and I feel better when I’m being

longer expect people to hurt me... I participated in the Anger

positive. I’ve learned forgiveness is for me and not the other

Management Program because I no longer wanted to be

person. I know I changed because it was change or die slowly

angry, I’d been that for most of my life.” Stacey Newkirk wrote

daily. I’ve learned to appreciate life.” Sheena King described

that one program “helped me to see the abusive relationships

overcoming the “self-loathing” she felt when she was

I was in and why I choose to get into those relationships. I also

younger: “I found my voice, my purpose for living and I have

learned that ‘hurt people hurt people’. So if someone is doing

no fears where I was shy, afraid of everything especially trying,

something hurtful to me it is because they are hurting. I took a

and didn’t think I had anything to offer except sex. I know that

self-esteem group. I was really hard on myself. I had to find out

I changed because I didn’t like what I saw when I really looked

why and change the way that I felt.”

at myself and I needed to be somebody better for my children.
I needed them to be proud of me not disappointed.”

Felix Rosado described the impact of becoming involved in
a program in which incarcerated people spoke to youth from

David Lee wrote: “It took many years of healing and soul

a juvenile detention center: “The first time I did was when I

searching to create a healthy mental outlook on life, and most

discovered that, despite being behind a wall fighting a DBI

of those years were spent in isolation inside of a state operated

sentence, I can have a positive impact on people’s lives. That

cage... As a young person, I truly did not love myself because

evening I discovered my purpose in life—to use my story and

I had absolutely no clue about who I really was; I had no

gifts to help prevent some of the same hurt and loss I caused

purpose in life, and no direction.” Now, however, David says,

and experienced.” Felix also obtained a Bachelor’s Degree

“I’ve learned a great deal from past mistakes and successes,

in Interdisciplinary Studies from Villanova University while

59

incarcerated. On his experience at Villanova, Felix wrote

hard encouraging them to be the best they could be, stay in

that it “helped me develop a social imagination, increased

school, and not let my coming to prison be a reason for them

my empathy for other cultures and people, and gave me a

not to live up to their full potential. I needed them to know they

historical context in which to place my individual experience,

are loved.”

among other things.”
Oscar Cintora wrote: “After more than 23 years behind bars,
One person who wished to remain anonymous wrote:

all my friends on the outside are gone, they continued with

“I’m not nearly as self-absorbed as I used to be. I’m not as

their lives and forgotten about me, which I don’t blame them,

materialistic. I live my life by a set of spiritual principles – I had

I probably would have done the same. Only my family is still

no spiritual belief system before I came to prison. I’m much

there for me. I call them and write to them often, it is hard to

more disciplined, kind, honest, and responsible than I used to

see them because of the distance, but I still get one or two

be.” Changa Asa Ramu said: “[The most important things to

visits from some of my family members per year.” The late

me are] my ideas of spirituality, political and social reality. I

Khalifa Diggs, who died in December 2017 while in DOC

don’t see myself as one individual who received a raw deal. I

custody, where he had been incarcerated for more than

see myself as one of a collective who seek political, social and

40 years, wrote: “You write, call, send cards, look for familiar

economical justice. Internally, I grew into a beautiful person

faces on the news station, ask how so and so is doing. Then

with ideas of world peace, spiritual enlightenment, and self-

after years of outside death stories, you start pinching yourself,

mastery.”

in many cases kissin ass to get a letter. Life moves on exceptyou’re not amongst the livin. Now the struggle begins.”

Many respondents cited relationships with family and friends

60

as both a major catalyst in their growth and as providing

One person who wished to remain anonymous wrote: “Visits

necessary support to do so. Family and outside support were

are few and far between. My parents are old and the strain of

frequently among the most important things to those who

the long car ride is too much for them. I work hard to maintain

responded to the questionnaire, but many noted that it is

relationships with people on the outside because knowing that

difficult to maintain these relationships due to distance, cost,

people out there love me has a tremendous positive impact on

and the passage of time, among other factors.

my mental well-being.”

Saadiq Palmer, for example, wrote: “It can be taxing at times,

Many of those who responded said that lifers had a strong

but I feel it’s important to maintain outside relationships in

(but not universal) commitment to atone for harm they have

order to not become institutionalized and lost in the system.”

caused, and feel deep remorse.

George Greenlee wrote: “Sometimes you go through feeling
like I need and want to do right to show everyone who’s in your

Char Pfender wrote: “I feel deep pain and remorse for ending

life that you have changed. You become a better man, father,

a life…No one should ever get killed…I look around at other

friend, and all around person when you have time to sit and

lifers and see the pain in them too. A lot of people think we only

think about your actions and realize it’s time to make a change

think of ourselves and how to get out. That is just a stereotype…

for the better.” Zechariah Thompson wrote: “All I do now is

We search for ways to right that wrong in all we do, behind

correspond with my daughters, I try to be the best father I can

these walls.” Malakki Bolden wrote: “We are not a monolith.

be, and I reunited with my mother and made amends. She

Some, like me, daily grieve [for victims] and others don’t care.

apologized and told me the ways in which she loves me... I feel

We are not all the same. But the media perpetuates the myth

like [my daughters] are my reason to strive and stay alive and

that having remorse is weak, while it is the true strength of a

alert.”

person and it can open the door to a higher purpose.”

Henrietta Harris wrote: “[M]y children were my reason for

Bruce Murray maintains his innocence in the crime for which

getting out of bed, holding on to what life I did have, I needed

he was convicted, but wrote: “I’ve lived with these men who

them to know they were very, very important to me. I worked

have killed, and have first hand knowledge th[ey’re] remorseful;

this is why a lot of them head in-house organizations wanting

	 I believe that those of us serving DBI sentences has

to help any and all people, who have been a victim… [E]ven

experienced losing someone we care about to violence, so

though I did not do the crime I still would like to show my

we know the hurt… I personally had an uncle killed violently…

sympathy not only for the victim in my case but all victims.”

I felt the hurt of losing him, as well as my entire family. So I

Saadiq Palmer also spoke of his experiences with other

can sympathize with my homicide victim and his loved ones…

people serving death by incarceration: “Everybody shows

It hurts even more that I personally knew the victim and his

their feelings differently. If you really want to know how

loved ones… When I found out that he was the victim in my

somebody feels, talk to them and you’ll be surprised by their

case, God as my witness, I cried… I hurt every day about his

response. 95% of individuals I know have a great deal of

death because he always treated me good… I pray every day

remorse for the life the[y’re] responsible for taking.”

that his family could find it in their heart to forgive me for me
being involved in his death.

George Greenlee wrote: “All I know is that I’m sorry for what
I done. If I could do it all over again I know I would be taking

Felix Rosado attributed part of the perceived lack of remorse

a right instead of a left that’s for sure. Prisoners can change. I

or sympathy toward victims that many believe exists among

know I have. I would never want to see this place again.” Oscar

those serving DBI sentences to the adversarial nature and

Cintora expressed a similar sentiment: “If I could change

harsh punishments of the criminal legal system:

anything to avoid this situation or if I could switch places with
the victim I would do it in a heart beat.” Sheena King wrote:

	 I believe the system is designed to promote a certain degree

“If there are people who feel no remorse for homicide…they

of, at least, indifference on the part of people who’ve offended

don’t represent the mass majority of us. Because my victim is a

toward the people they’ve harmed. It’s hard to feel remorse

mother, I think about her and her children as much as I think of

or sympathy when we’re fighting for our freedom and in some

my own and that is the one time that I hate myself.”

cases, lives. But whatever seems to be true based on one’s
exterior shouldn’t be confused with what’s deep in someone’s

Phillip Ocampo, who was sentenced to DBI as a result of

heart… In the restorative justice workshops I facilitate, I’ve

his felony-murder conviction for his role in a robbery during

witnessed hundreds of men break down in tears when we

which someone was killed, emphasized that many who are

watch a Victim-Offender Dialogue between a man and the

serving DBI sentences have also experienced the pain of

daughter of the girlfriend he murdered. In the workshop, we

losing a loved one to violence:

create a safe enough space where such vulnerability can be
expressed. Unfortunately such spaces don’t exist in police
stations, courtrooms, prisons, or any other stops along the
criminal legal system process.

61

Accomplishments

M

any of those who responded to the questionnaire

Phillip Ocampo listed numerous completed programs,

completed numerous programs and attained

academic achievements, and vocational experiences. In

educational and vocational achievements during their time

addition, “I’ve volunteered at the hospice here helping the

in prison, despite difficulty in accessing these programs

terminally ill… I also worked as a S.N.U. (Special Needs Unit)

due to their sentence. Many also have served as leaders of

Aide... I was also certified by the Board of Health to be a H.I.V.

various programs and described the role of those serving

Peer Educator… I also was a volunteer puppy trainer for the

DBI sentences in positively influencing other incarcerated

puppy program here... The puppies are trained for people with

people.

disabilities. I trained 8 puppies successfully. I would have to
say that the puppy program was one of the most important

Oscar Cintora wrote: “When you are a ‘lifer’ you are limited to

programs to me because it allowed me to help someone in

many programs or activities, but I’ve done violence prevention,

need...”

stress and anger, Day of Responsibility, Inside Out, sociology
college class, tutor training, and worked as a teacher’s aide

Malakki Bolden also described a number of academic and

for over 15 years, helped many students obtain their GED,

vocational certifications that he’s attained over the course of

and also learned English, which was one of my biggest

his incarceration:

personal achievements.” Paula Johnson wrote: “I have done

62

a lot of schooling here, a lot of different groups, etc. I got 69

	 I have also taken enough college classes to have a degree

certificates over the years…I participated in a lot because I

(if inmates could get accredited) and participated in Inside-

wanted to learn as much as possible.”

Out classes as well and help establish a think tank (ElsinoreBennu) that did the first Inside-Out Police Training course. My

David Lee described the most meaningful programs to him

self study in math has covered Algebra, Trig, and Calculus

and the role of those serving DBI in helping others who are

as well as Binary and Hexadecimal math. In creative

incarcerated:

writing I am a published poet, completed a few novels
and I have won awards through the PEN American Writing

	 The most germane programs for me are the ones created by

Center (pen.org/prisonwriting). Everything I have studied or

prisoners because they are the most realistic, and they are

accomplished was to better myself so this became who I am

culturally attuned with various backgrounds of prisoners.

now. And this better person is who I will bring to the outside

We started one program called Dare-2-Care, which is a

world once I am released.

youth development program that not only mentors our
youth, but provides meaning for older prisoners. I use the

Malakki also wrote that he served as a peer facilitator for

skills that I’ve developed in here to mentor youth on the

some programs, a tutor, and a Certified Peer Specialist, who

outside now, and they often express the value of being able

provides assistance to other incarcerated people dealing

to engage in honest and open conversations with someone

with mental health issues.

who has spent decades in prison, but used the time to grow
and continuously develop… We also started an educational

Haddrick Byrd wrote: “Upon beginning my sentence in

program called “One Hood United” geared toward

prison, I knew that I had to work towards bettering myself.

providing our youth with cultural, political, and economic

Therefore, I enrolled in school and got my GED, and went on

enlightenment.

to accumulate 49 ½ credits towards my associate degree in
business management, while working at the same time.” Char
Pfender obtained a GED and enrolled in college courses.
She wrote:

	 Growing up I was always led to believe I was not smart

we go last. I have still yet to be selected from the list. But I

enough…I didn’t expect to pass a GED... Somehow I managed

really want to do the school program, because as a child, I

to score the second highest score ever at Muncy. Then

was taken out of every school program. I just really want to

without studying, passed an SAT above average... I wish I

have the opportunity to get a diploma.” Kevin Kelly echoed

would have believed this of myself so much sooner in life.

these thoughts: “I’ve done different programs which were

I went on to take many college courses that changed my

educational just to self improve myself, plus the institutions

values, morals, viewpoints, and connected me to the world.

which I’ve spent time in doesn’t permit us to get in programs

I always felt disconnected because of my past. Education

because they are placing people with short time in them.”

changed that.
Henrietta Harris wrote: “We’re placed at the bottom of
Many people also expressed that it was difficult for those

program lists because of this sentence. It’s the same as being

serving DBI to access programs and activities due to their

told, ‘You’re never going any place to use these skills’. This

sentence, but that they had a strong desire to do so.

alone is disheartening… How can we prove to society that we
are changed, worth a second chance when we’re not ever

Changa Asa Ramu wrote: “I attained my GED here and there

given the opportunity to work and put it into action? Some

has not been anything else available for me here. I been on

speak of rehabilitation, give me the opportunity to show

waiting list for other programs that never seem to become

society what that word really mean.” Over the course of her

open. It’s frustrating because I witness others get into these

incarceration, Henrietta has nevertheless participated in

programs before me when I been waiting longer.” Zechariah

vocational programs and, among other programs, she wrote:

Thompson expressed similar sentiments: “All they have told

“I am presently a tutor in our Business/Computer classes. I

me is that people with parole minimums are first on the list [for

completed an Outpatient [Alcohol and Other Drugs] Group and

program enrollment]. Basically, lifers are on the backburner,

became a Peer Assistant in the program.”

63

CASE PROFILE

Dawud
On September 1, 1987, when he was 22
years-old, David Lee, now known as
Dawud, accompanied an acquaintance
to another person’s home and waited
in the street while he knocked on the
door. Without warning to Dawud, his
acquaintance – who became his codefendant – pulled out a handgun and
killed the man who opened the door.
Months later, after Dawud refused

64

I used to spend
8 or more hours
a day just
studying and
trying to make
up for lost time.

that still burns to this day. They ended
up having my counselor interview me to
determine if I was mentally capable of
passing the test. She was impressed with
the hour-long conversation we had and
stated that I was mentally capable.”137
Dawud is a beloved member of multiple
advocacy organizations and educational
projects such as the Coalition to Abolish

to take a plea deal to third-degree

Death by Incarceration, Decarcerate

homicide, which at that time carried

PA, Lifelines. Dawud co-founded

a maximum sentence of 20 years,

or more hours a day just studying and

the prosecution procured false
testimony implicating him in the
shooting, and Dawud was sentenced

trying to make up for lost time. History,

degrees of success. I wanted to know

a youth development program
called Dare-2-Care through
which he and other incarcerated
people mentor youth. Dawud also
co-founded One Hood United,
a youth education program. He

Dawud has been incarcerated for

all the things which were never taught

has been instrumental in shaping the

over 30 years. Early on he realized the

to me in school. I learned about the true

curriculum and mission of Address

importance of taking control of his own

meaning of capitalism, socialism, and

This!, an education and empowerment

education:

other concepts which play a major role in

project that provides innovative

our lives. For the first time in my life, I felt

correspondence courses to individuals

“The first and most difficult thing was to

empowered, so I wanted to test myself

incarcerated in Pennsylvania, with a

look inside of myself and understand

and went to take the G.E.D. test. I was able

special focus on the participation of

what type of things needed to change in

to pass the test the first time around. The

prisoners in solitary confinement or

my own life. That initial look in the mirror

prison administration at Dallas thought

maximum security conditions.

was horrifying for me because there was

that I cheated on the test because I

so much that needed to change. My level

never went to any of their classes. Also

With legal representation and vast

of underdevelopment was unspeakable.

just one year earlier I was told during

community and family support,

There were many flaws. For one, I had

my pre-sentence diagnostic test
that I had the mentality of a fourth
grader and that I was incapable of
learning. That lit a fire inside of me

Dawud is hopeful for the opportunity

to DBI.

to stop smoking and getting high. I was
functionally illiterate so I had to begin
to educate myself. I used to spend 8

politics, social science, culture, legal
issues, and just life in general were all
issues I studied. Of course with different

to continue his commitment to social
justice and transformation outside the
prison walls.

Outlook

M

any of those who responded to the questionnaire

of prison, “but without a strong sense of hope we [have]

acknowledged that DBI is a “slow death sentence,”

absolutely no chance making it back to our families and

but stressed the importance of maintaining a sense of

communities.”

hope as a source of motivation. For some, the sentence
itself as well as the conditions in prison made it difficult to

One person who wished to remain anonymous wrote:

remain hopeful, while others expressed a strong belief that
they would one day be able to return to their families and

	 Getting sentenced to DBI was a wake up call to me that

communities. Most people expressed some combination of

forced me to look at how I was living my life and the person

these feelings.

that I’d become. It made me realize that my life is valuable
and I have to make the most of it, even in prison. I’ve never

Sheena King wrote that legal developments such as the

felt hopeless because I do believe that one day I will get out

U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama provide a

of prison. I believe every day I’m preparing myself for that

glimmer of hope that those serving DBI may have a chance

eventual release. I want to be ready so I can do my part to

of freedom. But, she continued, “serving DBI is like having a

help alleviate suffering in the world and reduce the number

life-threatening debilitating disease. You know you’re going to

of people, particularly women, coming to prison. I try not to

die a slow painful process and a large part of you wishes your

think of the enormity of the sentence because that can feel

body would just succumb to this disease so the pain will end.”

like all the air is being sucked out of your lungs – I try to live

Saadiq Palmer also expressed that recent social and political

one day at a time. That does not mean that I don’t have an

movements have given those serving DBI hope that their

occasional emotional breakdown. I allow myself that, then I

prospects are changing: “You see so much loss on both sides

get back to work.

of the wall and it’s easy for that to affect your sense of hope.
But with all that’s going on now some of that hope is coming

Char Pfender described how her experience serving a DBI

back for many of us that have or were starting to give up!”

sentence changed over time:

Khalifa Diggs wrote: “I am every wakeful moment remorseful,

	 The first five years of prison was brutal, but I found a mentor

I still can’t wrap my mind around life [without parole], death is

in a teacher. He kept me from acting out and led me to

death, slow or sudden, pull a trigger, use a knife, or a ball point

apply myself... I always had something to finish or look

pen...We don’t have a Death Date, so we fantasize about some

forward to. Before you knew it 10-15-20 years went by…

reverse miracle, locked in the past – because there really is no

After 20 years it started getting harder. I still had unfulfilled

future. What’s difficult is holding on to hope to live.” Not long

dreams…that were not going to happen. I became less

after penning these words, Khalifa passed away at age 67.

involved with the inside and more involved with the outside,
such as charities, prison society programs, restorative

Paula Johnson wrote: “It is not difficult for me to maintain a

justice... I kept hope alive in my heart. I never just give up.

sense of hope. I will never lose hope as long as I live… Serving

I believe things will change. Now that I am saved, I pray

DBI is a slow death sentence. It’s not fun, but when you don’t

for God to do his will in me and if that even means staying

have a choice, you just have to make the best of it, and that’s

longer to fulfill his purpose for me, then that is what I will

exactly what I do.” Nicole Newell also wrote: “As long as I have

deal with…I truly believe that hope is your belief in seeing a

breath in my lungs and believe that I will get a second chance,

wonderful end no matter how bad the middle looks, and

I will always have hope.” Similarly, Phillip Ocampo wrote: “So

growing from horrible beginnings. You cannot rise like a

as long as there is breath in me, I’ll always have hope until

phoenix from the ashes without walking through the fire first.

I get out or go home to heaven.” David Lee expressed that

I want to rise, not be consumed.

it is difficult to maintain hope in the negative environment

65

Kristin Edmundson also wrote that her perception of her

that you are just wasting space and oxygen, that it’s better off

sentence changed over time: “It’s not only the physical

getting the death penalty. But your family, friends, and God

lockup, but your mental and emotional punishment you give

give me strength and encouragement to keep going and keep

to yourself. The emotional and mental punishment you put

fighting, but it’s not easy.”

yourself through is an agonizing pain… Now that I’m older and
have more knowledge it’s harder because realizing the severity

Kevin Kelly expressed similar feelings: “My attitude is up and

of it all is actually more challenging but it makes me work

down at times because I am forced to live in this environment…

harder for freedom.”

where I am just trying to maintain and keep my sanity in my
environment where I wake everyday knowing that I will never

Some people wrote that the commutation process seems

get out... It is very much difficult to maintain a sense of hope

intended to give people a sense of false hope, when

but I do it because I have to try and live for them—my family.”

in reality it offers no meaningful prospect of release.

Malakki Bolden also wrote: “At [the beginning of my sentence],

Oscar Cintora wrote: “Sometimes I even believe that [the

hope was less than zero. But through the love of family and

commutation process] exists just to say to people, yes,

friends and a recommitment of religion, I am now the living

there is a way to release people from those types of unjust

personification of HOPE.”

sentences, but everyone is being turned down.” Changa Asa
Ramu described the difficulty of receiving commutation for

Phillip Ocampo frequently cited his mother as a great

those who had a difficult transition into their lives in prison:

source of strength and inspiration, including in relation to his

“Historically commutation has only been given to exceptional

feelings about his DBI sentence:

prisoners who maintained a trouble free prison record,

66

who became accepted and approved by guards, staff and

	 It’s because of my family, especially my mother, that I know

administrators as a honor inmate. For many of us who had a

that I’m not alone in this fight for my freedom and I’m not

bad adjustment to doing a life sentence...commutation does

alone in any sense of the word… I would be lost in this place

not appear realistically an option.”

without my mother. I watch so many guys in here that has
no family support and they are so lost and have no hope.

For some, family, friends, and other supporters are a primary

I’m blessed to have the mother that I have. She inspires me

source of strength and motivation to continue striving for

to this very day… Her strength, her fight, her never surrender

freedom. Oscar Cintora wrote: “[Serving a DBI sentence] is very

attitude, I get all of that from her.

hard, some days you feel like giving up. Like you don’t matter,

Goals, Hopes, Dreams

M

ost of the people who responded to the

“Some of the best help and/or support for those right now

questionnaire expressed strong desires to help

struggling (with addiction, mental health, those living in crime-

others, particularly youth, upon their release from prison.

ridden areas, etc.) is us. We have lived lives similar to them –

Many described numerous ways in which they have already

we are them – and our examples of how to manage life’s ups

been doing this work while incarcerated. As Khalifa Diggs

and downs can reach them like nothing else. Rehabilitated

wrote, most “wish to be a good spoke in the wheel of changing

prisoners are the help society is looking for.”

lives.”
Bruce Murray described his goals upon reentering society:
Malakki Bolden described how those who are currently
serving DBI sentences are well-suited to carry out the work
of building communities and serving as positive influences:

	 I want to go back to vocational school to upgrade my
carpentry skills[.] [T]his way, all those old homes in the hood;

I can…teach the youth on the street how to do the trade

caused it. It made sense. It gave me hope that I can actually

and then once a group learn it we can do low income work

do something to put my wrongs “more right.” My interest

right in the hood to help keep the home liveable, while still

in restorative justice quickly became a passion and soon

training another group and branching out to other trade

after I met my mentor and friend Charles. We developed

skills and areas. I also want to continue Peer Training

restorative justice education workshops and to date have

and spend as much time with grandchildren, nieces and

served almost 1,000 men here at Graterford… In 2008 I also

nephews, etc.

participated in the Alternatives to Violence Project. I took
all 3 levels of the workshops and then became a facilitator,

Kevin Kelly wrote: “I hope to get out and try and work with

facilitation trainer, and co-coordinator, which I still am today.

young people to educate them on what can happen if they

Since I committed an act of violence that can never be

decided to live the street life involving theirselves in any illegal

undone, it’s especially crucial to me to now live a nonviolent

activities.” Sheena King wrote that she completed a program

life and help as many others as possible do the same.

called House of Hope In-Patient Therapeutic Community
for Survivors of Abuse while she was incarcerated. She

Many others expressed their desire to make their wrongs

continued: “when I worked at the House of Hope as a Peer

“more right” and attempt to atone for harms that they

Counselor years after completing [the program], I learned

caused. Oscar Cintora wrote: “There are many people

much more about myself. I found my passion in helping others

serving this sentence (DBI) that are truly sorry and have

heal from abuse and I would absolutely take those lessons

changed their lives, that only ask for one more chance to

outside of prison.” Nicole Newell also expressed her desire

demonstrate our changes, and that we could be assets to our

to help young people: “My goals are...to find a way to mentor

communities, could make amends, or try to make amends, in

teens, to see if I can have resources to open up a home for

better ways from the outside.” Changa Asa Ramu expressed

troubled pregnant teens. Now I know there’s places out there

similar thoughts: “We understand that we have a debt to

but be ran by someone that’s been there (in their shoes).”

pay to society and are willing to take that responsibility.

Saadiq Palmer wrote of similar goals: “[I want to] work and

Our communities and families need [our presence].” Kristin

advocate for the less fortunate. Spend as much time as I can

Edmundson wrote: “I cannot change what happen although

with my family and work with the kids to try to deter them from

I really wish I could, but I can try to make up for my mistakes

falling into the same trappings that I got caught up in.”

and the hurt I’ve caused. I would like people to know that I will
continue to strive and make myself a better person.”

Felix Rosado described numerous programs and
organizations that he has led and participated in—work

In addition to helping others, many people strive to be

that he wants to continue outside of prison. He discussed

positive role models, build family relationships, and

the importance of the concept of restorative justice in

experience things they were never able to before their

addressing harm:

incarceration.

	 In 2008 I [started] a restorative justice project later

One person who wished to remain anonymous wrote: “[I want

named Let’s Circle Up that I continue to coordinate today.

to] reconnect with my family. Take care of my aging parents,

My introduction to restorative justice came through a

and build a better relationship with my children, and use some

photoessay book of people who’ve been victimized... I had

of the knowledge I’ve learned through reading to start my own

12 years in at the time and for the first time I was face-to-

business, find a church to attend, and find time to help with

face with the fact that I had caused the same pain I was

some youth groups.” Henrietta Harris wrote that she wants

reading about to a family with a story and faces of their

“to be united with my remaining family members, find a job,

own... I’d been conditioned to confine my concept of justice

get my own place, get involved with my community, hopefully

to cops, courts, and prison cells. Here I was reading about

become a motivational speaker, be an active member in my

a way of doing justice that attempts to heal by involving the

church, get involved with volunteer organizations, be involved

people directly affected by the crime(s)—including those who

with Prison Society.”

67

Phillip Ocampo wrote:

a person can change for the better and be a productive
member of society.

	 The most important thing to me first is getting home to
my family and being able to be involved in my children

Nicole Newell also expressed that family was her primary

and grandchildren lives. Other important things that are

focus: “There’s no other place I rather be then surrounded

important to me is doing some mentoring to our youth

with my siblings, daughter, and grand kids.” Stacey Newkirk

and trying to steer them away from prison… My goal is to

expressed similar desires: “I would love to get a job to support

go home and be a better father to my children, a better

myself. I would like to become a home owner again. I would

grandfather, a better grandson, a better son, and a better

like to spend time with my children and grandchildren. I would

man than when I came in. A man that made a mistake as

like to take care of my mother and sister. I would like to offer

a teenager and not only show, but prove to society that

housing and support for women getting out of prison who have
no one.”

Ending DBI

M
68

any of those who responded to the questionnaire

Speaking against the attitude and intention behind DBI

offered their reasons for supporting an end to DBI

sentences, Khalifa Diggs wrote: “Laws are controlling

sentences. They wrote about how they and others they

sentences uttered from the mouths of class status seekers

know would be assets to their communities if released, the

without concern of the Husband, Brother, Mother, Daughter,

importance of affording second chances and opportunities

Son—they kill with their support of a broken system. Dining on

for redemption, upholding human dignity, and the costs of

words like ‘he’s a predator, not redeemable, throw away the

sentencing people to die in prison.

key’.” Changa Asa Ramu also wrote of redemption: “Prisoners
should be given the opportunity to redeem ourselves. Human

Char Pfender synthesized many of these sentiments in her

nature is to error and as a society we’re supposed to correct

responses:

errant behavior, not condemn it for life.”

	 Punishment should not be confused with vengeance. As

One person who wished to remain anonymous wrote: “Most

a believer in God, we must forgive in order to be healed.

of us are changed and have learned from our mistakes and

Once I forgave my father [for his abuse], I knew I was ready

would desperately love a second chance... Tax dollars could

to ask for forgiveness. We should not be characterized by

go toward not just housing people waiting to die, and use it to

the worst mistake of our life for the rest of our life. People

rehabilitate and introduce the rehabilitated back into society,

change, people work to restore the harm they’ve done. Some

so they can become tax paying productive members of their

were children when they made the mistake, and were too

communities.” Bruce Murray also wrote: “We ask for another

immature to be held completely responsible. We deserve a

chance to help after a time of growth and reflection, our

second chance at some point.

community needs us, our family needs us, our victims need us
for we owe a debt to them.”

Oscar Cintora also expressed similar sentiments: “I believe
that everyone should deserve a second chance, an opportunity

Nicole Newell wrote: “Most of us have change for the better,

to rehabilitate themselves to make amends and show that

we have grown and realize that we hurt others and we want

people can change.” Oscar also added that releasing some

a second chance to prove that we are better women... We

people who are serving DBI sentences “could save the state

help young ones that come through these gates, we tell them

lots of money that can be used for other more important needs

our story so they won’t come back. So far three of them that I

and we can contribute to our communities in many ways.”

shared my story with haven’t come back.” Kristin Edmundson

wrote about the maturity of those serving DBI sentences and

a crime and get a life sentence it doesn’t matter what you

the unlikelihood that they will return to prison: “[A] majority

do after that because you will never be set free. Yet people

of people [serving DBI] would become productive members of

[serving DBI] still do the right thing. Why? Because they are

society if they were released. We have learned to survive and

good people who made a bad choice that cost them the rest

overcome many obstacles and with those tools of knowledge

of their life. Still they changed, for no one, but themselves.

we can make better choices with our lives. We also know what
it’s like to lose everything.”

Felix Rosado also wrote about others serving DBI sentences,
writing that they are among the kindest, most caring, selfless,

Malakki Bolden wrote about the causes of violence and

resilient human beings I’ve ever known. They’ve been making a

how DBI sentences do not solve the problems that need to

positive difference in the lives of countless people for decades

be addressed or respect the dignity of those serving these

to little fanfare, not for credit, not to impress a parole board—

sentences:

but just because it’s the right thing to do. It’s about character
and purpose, and a higher sense of self that transcends walls,

	 It is hurt people who turn around and begin to hurt other

bars, labels and the dehumanization inherent in prisons—

people. Some of us have issues and challenges we did not

despite prison... We weren’t created to be trapped in a moment

know how to solve and this led us to anti-social behavior.

of time, to be prevented from reaching something higher.

But we are still human. To shut us down from receiving basic
care and concern and isolating us from society makes it

Felix also wrote that his experience in restorative justice

easier for the worst within someone to fester and evolve

work has taught him that victims and survivors also do

them into a shadow – a walking corpse. And for those who

not want to be reduced to a single act or moment in time.

found a ray of hope in this oblivion and have even managed

But, “DBI doesn’t allow families to move forward. Everyone

to better themselves, would not a second chance give them

involved…is forced to forever stay stuck in one devastating

a reward for their astounding feat, as well as give some

moment in time.”

incentive to the desolate that hope hasn’t died? If not so then
maybe it isn’t just some of the incarcerated who have lost

Many people focused on the particular ability of those

touch with what it means to be human.

serving DBI sentences to inspire and produce positive
change for their communities on the outside if given the

Sheena King expressed similar thoughts:

opportunity. Phillip Ocampo wrote: “A lot of us serving these
sentences could do more good on the outside than in here and

	 We are not what we’ve done... DBI does not fix what’s

should be given the chance to show that we could make a

broken in people or communities... DBI sentences serve no

difference in life on a positive level.” David Lee, who maintains

real purpose. You lock people up until they die and how

his innocence of the crime for which he was convicted,

does that bring back a loved one, or cause a person to

wrote: “I have spent over half of my life in prison for a crime I

see the error of their ways and change? How does it help a

did not commit, and all I want to do is positive work within and

victim’s family to heal? People serving DBI have hurt entire

beyond my community.” He continued:

communities – we need to be held accountable to help to fix
it. We can’t in a cell.

	 I also talk to many DBI prisoners wo have committed
the acts they’re incarcerated for, and they just want

Many people wrote that those serving DBI sentences seek

an opportunity to redeem themselves. This is why the

to be kind, community-oriented, and positive influences,

“Restorative Justice” concept is so vital, and something

despite the seeming impossibility of being released. Stacey

desperately needed in this state. Healing and repair is

Newkirk wrote:

needed, not excessive punishment.

	 Keeping someone locked up forever is not accomplishing
anything. If it did crime would have stopped... If you commit

Saadiq Palmer summarized many of the sentiments
expressed by other people serving DBI sentences:

69

	 Life without parole is not a deterrent and it’s inhuman to

change. Myself and the many men that I work with will be

keep somebody locked away for decades that has been

agents for change. Changing the lives and direction of our

rehabilitated. It’s cost effective to grant us parole. And most

youth is paramount for all of us. We’ve lost children, family

of all we are the least likely to reoffend out of all offenses…

and friends in our time inside. We care, we’re sorry for the

less than 1% of men and women serving DBI released on

harms we’ve caused. Let us lead by example, let us show the

parole, pardon or commutation reoffend after release. Allow

world that change and transformation is possible!”

us to use our experience serving DBI as a prescription for

70

71

72

IV.
ABOLITIONIST
HORIZONS

STRATEGIES AND
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR
ABOLISHING DEATH BY
INCARCERATION

I. Building the Movement to Abolish DBI

A

s this report has demonstrated, Death-By-Incarceration

individuals who will pose a public safety threat for the rest

is more than a failed policy or a well-meaning yet

of their lives, as they are imposed pursuant to a mandatory

excessive response to violence.

scheme that never allows for a less severe punishment.
The practice of sending people to serve decades in prison

Instead, DBI is central to the system of
mass incarceration in Pennsylvania; a
material, institutional, and ideological
pillar of a regime of state violence
that systematically targets the
poor and communities of color. DBI
sentencing exemplifies the logic of
fear, vengeance, and social death that
underlie and sustain the institutions
of policing and prisons in this country.

without any prospect of release until they die has been
conducted for decades without so much as a review by any
legislative or executive official as to its efficacy, purpose,
effect, or inhumanity.
The consequences are too pervasive and pernicious
to ignore. The voices of those on the inside insisting on
recognition of their full humanity and the rights that should
accompany that recognition are growing louder by the
day. As an increasingly elderly population, aging lifers in
Pennsylvania prisons who have already served substantial
time not only pose an extremely low risk of reoffending
for any offense, but scores of them have invaluable life
experiences, wisdom, skills, insight, and leadership to share
with their communities and the society at large, earned

The staggering racial disparities are indicative of the

through hard decades of maturation, reflection, dedication,

ongoing reality of white supremacy and anti-Blackness that

and transformation.

relentlessly deprives people of color of their rights and their
liberty. To speak plainly, in its application and function DBI

In summary, DBI is an abomination—a human rights crisis

is racist, targeting communities of color that are subject to

demanding urgent attention and prompt abolition. As

conditions of imposed poverty and deprivation with policies

illustrated in the heart of this report—the words of lifers

of state violence rather than social support, services, and

themselves—those serving these sentences do not need us

uplift, demonizing and traumatizing them with policies

to speak for them. They are more than capable of doing that

of permanent punishment under the insidious pretext

for themselves.

of providing protection and safety, neither of which ever
materialize.

Instead, they need people to fight with them for their
freedom, for a new paradigm of justice rooted in community

DBI is not an effective deterrent to crime. In Pennsylvania,

restoration and accountability, transformation rather than

DBI sentences do not even offer the pretext of identifying

retribution, one where a preferential option for rehabilitation

73

is always taken and the right to redemption becomes a

litigation, legislative reform, and pursuing relief in

reality.

individual appeals or through the commutation process.

In furtherance of that fight, we conclude with a synopsis of

Each individual initiative supports the larger movement to

strategies for the rollback and ultimate abolition of DBI. Our

abolish DBI, and any individual defeat is merely a setback

approach is founded on the following principles:

to learn from and an obstacle to overcome.

•	 Movement-based approach: A movement-based

•	 Unity and Support for All People Sentenced to

approach rooted in organizing specific and diverse

DBI: Although some strategies may be limited in rolling

constituencies in support of the common goal of ending

back DBI, applying only to individual cases or sub-

DBI, providing second chances for those sentenced to DBI,

categories of those sentenced to DBI, such as juveniles,

and supporting a new paradigm of justice. This requires

those aged 18-21, or those convicted of 2nd degree

more than just shaping or changing public opinion – it

homicide, we understand these as components of a

means inspiring and planning political action in support of

long-term effort to undermine the legitimacy of DBI in

our common goal.

all instances. When advocating for individuals or specific
categories of lifers, therefore, we always emphasize the

•	 Leadership of Most Impacted: Centering the

74

need to end DBI for everybody, to support all lifers, and

leadership of those most impacted –those serving

not to adopt rhetoric or strategies that pit lifers against

DBI, their families, and communities most impacted by

each other or suggest – implicitly or explicitly – that a DBI

violence – in our movement-building work.

sentence is justified for some individuals.

•	 Multi-Strategy: We support a multi-strategy,

What follows is a brief summary of initiatives already

movement-building approach that includes public

underway or recommendations for reforms that contribute to

education, community organizing and mobilization,

the abolition of DBI.

II. Legislation

T

he most direct and comprehensive route to ending

LWOP in Europe. Additionally, many countries in Latin

DBI is through the legislature. After years of inattention

America and Asia do not have LWOP as part of their penal

by state lawmakers, a newly-elected state representative,

code. Even among those countries that do impose LWOP,

Jason Dawkins, introduced a bill in 2016 that would provide

the United States does so far more often than any other.

parole eligibility for everybody serving a life sentence after

Pennsylvania had the second highest LWOP population in

15 years. The legislation includes a retroactive application

the nation as of 2008.

provision, meaning that it would apply to all those currently
serving a sentence of DBI. Representative Dawkins reintroduced the legislation in the 2017 legislative session.138
Currently, HB135 has 23 sponsors.

139

In the legislative

	 All life sentences in Pennsylvania are imposed without the
possibility of parole. This means that individuals sentenced
to life imprisonment may not be considered for parole, no

memoranda accompanying reintroduction of the legislation,

matter how much they have reformed themselves and no

Representative Dawkins framed the problem of DBI:

matter how unlikely they are to reoffend. Those sentenced
to LWOP in Pennsylvania also have no chance at release

	 Few other nations authorize life without parole (LWOP). Only

when they grow so ill or elderly they pose little to no risk to

three European nations have laws permitting life sentences

the public. Not only does this represent an injustice to an

for which the only mechanism for release is executive

individual who is a model inmate despite having no chance

clemency. There may be as few as 100 inmates serving

at life outside of prison, but it also creates an avoidable

expense for the corrections system – and the taxpayers

•	 Maximum-Minimums: As a companion to Dawkins’

who fund it – by incarcerating individuals longer than

and Streets’ legislation that sets a minimum sentence of

necessary.140

15 years before lifers would become parole eligible, the
legislature and sentencing reform advocates should push

In October 2017, newly-elected state senator Sharif Street

for a law that sets 15 years as the maximum that anybody

introduced a companion bill, SB942, which is identical to

can consecutively serve before being parole eligible. This

Representative Dawkins’ bill.141 This legislation currently has 4

means that individuals serving sentences for multiple

sponsors in the Pennsylvania Senate.

convictions or for offenses other than first or second-

142

degree homicide should also have their minimums
The legislation has been actively supported by the

recalibrated accordingly so that the new paradigm for all

Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI), an

sentencing in the state is no more than 15 years before the

organization formed in 2014 by the grassroots organizations

parole board is permitted to consider a person for release.

Decarcerate PA, Fight for Lifers, Human Rights Coalition,

Such a reform is an essential component of reorienting

and Reconstruction, Inc, and Right to Redemption, a lifers

the system away from a punitive and retributive function

group at SCI Graterford. In October 2016, CADBI organized

toward one where rehabilitation, restoration to the

a rally and lobbying day in support of Dawkins’ legislation

community, and redemption are unambiguously the

at the state capitol in Harrisburg. The following year, CADBI

objectives of the criminal legal system.

was joined by the newly-formed CADBI-West, based in
Pittsburgh, for another day of support. Each year saw more

•	 Maximum sentences, elimination of “life-tails”:

than 200 people call for an end DBI in the halls of the

The presumption of the criminal legal process should be

legislature that initiated and continues to perpetuate the

that every person subjected to it will be released from

injustice of DBI. Most of those who attended were family

prison and eventually be released from any form of state

members of lifers and many were formerly incarcerated

control such as probation or parole. While this initiative

themselves. Over the last 3 years CADBI has seen a surge in

should be pursued after parole eligibility for lifers has

membership, built support for HB135 and SB942, and seen

been established, it is a natural corollary of abolishing DBI

the creation of CADBI chapters in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

sentences as it directly challenges the presumption that
public safety is furthered by the permanent surveillance

While this legislation is the most direct and comprehensive

and control of people who have committed harm. Setting

approach to ending DBI sentences in Pennsylvania, its

affirmative limits on state violence is an essential aspect

passage will take years of patient, methodical, and strategic

of decarceration, both as a concrete means for allowing

organizing. There are 50 senators and 203 representatives

greater freedom and as a means of correcting the harmful,

in the state of Pennsylvania, the majority of whom have not

stigmatizing, counter-productive ideas and practices

shown any initiative in reducing mass incarceration. CADBI

sustaining the current system of permanent punishment.

and its allies will have to continue to develop organizational
capacity, build a statewide coalition that shapes the policies

•	 Community Reinvestment: The legislature should

of candidates for the legislature, and hold elected legislators

fully invest in funding programmatic opportunities

accountable to decarcerating Pennsylvania and ending DBI.”

inside and outside the prison to prepare lifers for reentry to the community. Decarceration means more

Some other recommendations for the legislature or those

than emptying prison beds; it requires funding social

advocating for legislation around ending DBI include:

services, employment opportunities, vocational training,
educational programs, and other initiatives that will enable
successful re-entry and address inequality through
redistributive social and economic programs.

75

CASE PROFILE

Marie “Mechie” Scott
My name is Marie Scott. My friends call
me Mechie. I nicknamed myself after my
best friend, Peachie, whose real name
is Sharon Wiggins. She is deceased
now, but as a teenager I always wanted
to grow up to be like her. Because of
Peachie, today I am proud to be who
I am. I have two children, a son and a

76

Codependence
is a disease
that brought
most women to
prison.

During her 45 years of incarceration,
Mechie has completed paralegal
training, taken courses through
Bucknell and Bloomsburg University,
received an Associate Degree from
Penn State University, and completed
numerous rehabilitative programs.
She is the founder and editor of the

daughter. In 2008, I lost my son to a

newsletter C.O.P.I.N.G. – Children of

motorcycle accident. I thought I could

Parent Inmates Needing Guidance,

lose my mind because we always

Codependence is a disease that

a project that assists the children of

thought that I would be released one day

brought most women to prison. Because

incarcerated parents in Philadelphia.144

to share time with both of my children. My

codependency is a disease, I had to treat

daughter’s name is Gretta.

it as such. It is what cause me not to be

Mechie has collaborated with the

able to say “no” to a guy who saved my

author and restorative justice advocate

I was born in Harlem, New York. Growing

life during a robbery that took place at

Howard Zehr, and been featured in his

up I was constantly molested and raped

the store I was employed at. I felt I owed

books Doing Life: Reflections of Men

until I was fifteen. Behind it I became

my life to this guy after saving mine.

and Women Serving Life Sentences

severely codependent. The kind who

How could I say no to a request to be a

and What Will Happen to Me, the

could not say “no.” I felt if a man took me

lookout in a robbery?”

latter dealing with the children of

143

incarcerated parents and featuring

to a movie, that he was in love with me,
so if he took me to dinner afterwards,
he wanted to marry me. Love had been
distorted in my childhood.

Poverty, homelessness, and drug
addiction were added to the
horror of sexual violence that
Mechie suffered as a child. In 1973,

Mechie and her daughter, Hope. Mechie

while in the midst of a relapse and at

term collaboration with eight people

the instigation of her co-defendant,

serving DBI sentences in Pennsylvania.

Mechie accompanied a 16-year-old boy
on a robbery in Philadelphia. She was
only 19. Although she was the lookout
and did not kill nor intend to kill the
victim, she ended up with a mandatory
DBI sentence. Her co-defendant has
since been re-sentenced and is now
parole eligible as a result of recent U.S.
Supreme Court decisions.

is also a participant in Lifelines: Voices
Against the Other Death Penalty, a
media cultural project involving long-

III. Decarcerate DA

A

On the Prosecutorial Obligations to
Drastically Curtail Incarceration

s innocence projects have proliferated around the

mass incarceration necessitate directly confronting violent

country to address the systemic reality of the criminal

offenses and challenging the core assumptions and most

legal system’s conviction and incarceration of innocent

draconian, permanent punishments of the system of

people, some district attorney offices have been pressured

mass incarceration. As is being shown in Philadelphia and

to adopt conviction review units to review innocence claims.

other jurisdictions where prosecutor races have become

A corollary to these efforts is an innovation being pushed in

increasingly politicized, one strategy for doing this is to

Philadelphia – the expansion of conviction review to include

mobilize in support of district attorney candidates who

cases of excessive sentencing, with a specific focus on

will implement policies aimed at reducing incarceration,

DBI sentences. If successful, it can and should serve as a

eschewing a punitive ethos, and supporting more restorative

model to other jurisdictions in Pennsylvania and across the

efforts to address violence and interpersonal harm.

country.

Integrating proposals that will limit or undo DBI sentences

145

with these efforts is another strategy for exposing and
Injustice does not only occur when the innocent are

challenging such sentences while building organizational

punished, but also when those who have committed

capacity to fight for larger victories and winning release in

criminal offenses are punished in excess of their culpability,

individual cases.

or punished in excess of what public safety requires. To
foreclose the possibility of redemption and restoration to

As Larry Krasner emerged as the front-runner to become

one’s family and community is an injustice and a denial of

the next District Attorney of Philadelphia on a campaign of

basic human dignity. Many incarcerated people have spent

rolling back mass incarceration, members of the Coalition

decades in prison, developing into leaders, transforming

to Abolish Death by Incarceration working through the

themselves and those around them. They are ready to

multi-organizational, city-wide Coalition for a Just DA

return home. Our communities can benefit from their

began developing a policy proposal for a sentence

experience and leadership, and district attorney offices have

review component to the existing conviction review.

an instrumental role to play in ensuring that these excessive

The proposed policy is both a corollary to innocence

sentences are corrected and the right to redemption is

projects and conviction review and representative of an

recognized as central to efforts to end mass incarceration.

emerging recognition that if we are to see any potential
for significantly reducing incarceration in Pennsylvania

Serious efforts to reduce mass incarceration, enact

or anywhere else it means addressing violent offenses; it

policies and practices of restorative and transformative

means we have to fight to free more than the innocent, we

justice, and redistribute power and resources to those

also have to fight to free those who committed the offense

communities most devastated by poverty, violence, and

that they are incarcerated for.

IV. Commutation

Adopting a Policy of
Presumptive Commutation

T

he commutation process, as discussed in this report,

Commutation reform, however, is an especially difficult

has become virtually inoperable in Pennsylvania. At

task in the legislature. The Board of Pardons must give a

the same time the need for a meaningful mechanism for

unanimous recommendation for a lifer to be considered

releasing aging lifers who pose little to no risk of committing

for commutation by the Governor as a result of the change

any offense – let alone homicide – upon release is greater

to the state constitution following the series of rapes and

than ever.

murders committed by commuted lifer Reginal McFadden

77

in 1994. Further, commutation is by its very nature an act of

reform, wondering whether we had lost the momentum

executive grace, and improving the efficiency or fairness of

toward change and were heading backward.”147 Added

the system does not guarantee increased consideration or

Kathleen Brown, a University of Pennsylvania professor who

release of deserving lifers.

has been assisting lifers with commutation applications,
“Surprise doesn’t quite hit it[.] Nobody seems to know what

One demand that advocates can advance that does not entail

the reasons are. Am I making an assumption it’s political?

going through the legislature is to target the Board of Pardons

Yes.” On May 7, a group of advocacy organizations including

itself and demand that it adopt transparent and definite

the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Amistad Law Project, Reclaim

criteria for considering lifers for commutation and releasing

Philadelphia, Decarcerate PA, Abolitionist Law Center and

those who satisfy those criteria. Toward this end advocates

other organizations and individuals issued a public letter to

should push the Board of Pardons to adopt a policy of

Attorney General Shapiro:

presumptive commutation that will allow the commutation of
any DBI sentence when certain criteria are satisfied.

	 As a result, we now call on Mr. Shapiro to realign his
approach to commutation with the values of rehabilitation

78

In addition to this representing an effort to facilitate the

that the “tough-on-crime” era overlooked and suppressed.

release of those serving DBI sentences, as a demand it is

At a time when progressive reformers in office throughout

supported by strong data on the low risk posed by aging

the state are working to minimize the damage these policies

and elderly lifers, and it resonates with the legislative and

have done to communities, Mr. Shapiro’s opposition to

sentence review strategies in that it is centered around the

commutation makes him a champion of the old, failed

promise of redemption and the presumption that aging and

approach and a direct roadblock to more positive and

rehabilitated people must be given a fair chance to return to

community-minded reforms. Commutation cases offer

their families and communities. In the absence of a parole

a direct and obvious way for Mr Shapiro to demonstrate

option for lifers, the Board of Pardons should be pressured to

his commitment to the more constructive criminal justice

treat commutation as akin to a parole proceeding and their

practices his peers have been deploying, and we ask that he

decisions should be politicized such that if a Board member

start right away by voting for Mr. Smith’s release as well as

makes a decision to veto a commutation recommendation

that of other rehabilitated and redeemed lifers.148

that is wholly unexplained and unjustifiable, they will
face criticism and public pressure to explain and reverse

The pressure worked: Smitty was granted a re-hearing and

themselves. For example, in December of 2017, Attorney

subsequently obtained a unanimous recommendation from

General Josh Shapiro cast the sole votes in opposition to

the Board to commute his sentence.149

commutation for two people serving DBI sentences: 76-yearold William H. Smith and 57-year-old Edward Printup.146 These

By politicizing individual commutation decisions within the

decisions resulted in rare press attention to commutation

broader critique of the failures of mass incarceration and DBI

decisions, including critical pushback from the chair of the

sentencing cases such as William Smith’s can be utilized to

Board of Pardons, Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack, who

raise the political consequences for adhering to the status

said that Shapiro’s votes were “a stunning disappointment

quo and push for presumptive commutation for aging and

that left me, and many other advocates for criminal justice

rehabilitated lifers.

V. Litigation Strategies

T

he recommendations for lawyers, especially the

reflect what the law already recognizes in a number of

criminal defense bar, can be stated succinctly:

instances, which is that human adolescence continues

•	 Professional organizations, whether it is a sole law firm,

into the early 20s, and legal protections based on this
recognition should reflect that.

advocacy organization, or bar association, should adopt
position statements against DBI on human rights grounds,

•	 Do not implicitly or explicitly sanction the imposition of an

recognizing that such sentencing schemes do not further

LWOP or DBI sentence for one class of individuals when

their purported aims and exclude prosocial values of

advocating for another class. For instance, do not go out of

rehabilitation, restoration, and redemption from being

the way to tell the courts that DBI sentences are justifiable

actualized. The legal profession needs to commit itself to

for those older than 21 years of age when arguing that

accepting responsibility for its substantial role in allowing

those aged 18-21 should be granted parole eligibility. It

this injustice to metastasize, and adopt a corresponding

is sufficient to recognize that existing jurisprudence will

commitment to eliminate the use of DBI sentences.

not recognize a prohibition on DBI sentences, but the
legal profession should not internalize or replicate this

•	 Litigate cases that seek to expand upon recent U.S.

deficiency in our own strategic thinking.

Supreme Court jurisprudence striking down mandatory
life-without-parole sentences for juveniles to other

•	 Similarly, LWOP/DBI sentences should not be held out as

categories of defendants that the Court has previously

a humane alternative to the death penalty. These extreme

recognized as having diminished culpability, including

punishments should be consistently attacked together on

those with intellectual disability and those who lacked

a shared affinity for reorienting the paradigm of justice and

any intent to kill, such as those convicted of 2nd degree

fighting the political and legal battles according to what is

(“felony murder”) homicide in Pennsylvania.

right and not what is expedient.

•	 Litigate cases based on more recent neuroscience showing

•	 Support the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, their

that adolescents between the ages of 18-21 have the same

families and communities, by acting in radical solidarity

neurological characteristics that the U.S. Supreme Court

and empathy, listening intently to the what they need from

found relevant when excluding adolescents younger than

movement lawyers, and acting with them in the pursuit of

18 from the death penalty and mandatory life-without-

liberation.

parole sentences. We should expand the age limits to

79

VI. Conclusion

I

Toward Abolition

n articulating this multi-strategy, movement-building

Even within the U.S., Pennsylvania is an outlier, both in terms

framework for abolishing DBI in Pennsylvania we lay

of the absolute numbers of incarcerated people serving DBI

no claim to innovation. Rather, what is sketched above is a

sentences and the proportion of people in state custody

reflection of the organizing already underway, some of it

serving DBI sentences.

decades in the making, and always with its origins inside the
prisons, led by the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated,

The consequences of DBI sentencing extend far beyond the

their families and communities. Our task is to organize, build

prison walls. The total absence of redemptive opportunity

power, and attain political victories that position us to end

hardens punitive attitudes in society by legitimating the

DBI sentences, meaning both life-without-parole sentences

most destructive and divisive impulses within people: fear,

and term-of-years sentences that extend to or beyond the

vengeance, racism, and cruelty. Ultimately, the fight to

end of one’s natural life.

abolish DBI sentences is a fight over what type of society
we want to live in, whether we will organize around values

80

The situation of permanent imprisonment for more than

of restoration and redemption and healing or continue

5,300 people in Pennsylvania is untenable. It does not

down the path of fear and stigma and vengeance. The fight

have to be this way. In the vast majority of the world, it

is about how much injustice people will tolerate from the

is not. DBI sentences are another peculiarly U.S.-based

government.

phenomenon. Around much of the world such sentences

As it stands now, the situation is intolerable. It doesn’t have

are not permitted, and where they are they are not imposed

to remain this way, however, and the growing numbers of

at anywhere near the levels that they are imposed in this

people getting organized to put an end to DBI once and for

country. The racial demographics of DBI sentences are a

all are shining a bright lamp on the path forward.

scandal and a human rights travesty.

CASE PROFILE

Ralph “Malakki” Bolden
To know Ralph “Malakki” Bolden is
to love him. Everyone from family
members, friends, academics,
community activists, prison staff and
prisoners sing his praises. And while it is
unfair to reduce anyone to the worst act
of their lives, it is true that good people

Malakki has
dedicated his
life to serving
others.

do bad things. A combination of factors

“I am a rehabilitated prisoner who
received a life sentence, 22 years ago.
Eight years ago, I contracted Multiple
Sclerosis and I now need a cane to walk.
When I was still a young man, the way
I approached my rehabilitation was
through education. Then I became a tutor.
After 15 years of working the prison’s

found Malakki in a state of mental

Throughout his 24 years of incarceration

education department I have helped

turmoil when he was 27 years old in

Malakki has dedicated his life to serving

hundreds of men receive their GEDs. Just

1994. His family suffered emotional

others. Malakki has attempted to atone

recently, I received the training to become

and physical abuse in the home.
He experienced the tragic loss
of his second stepfather. When
he enlisted in the U.S. military
he experienced intense racial
discrimination. His community back in

for the life he took by living his life in a

a Certified Peer Specialist and I now work

way that honors that sense of remorse.

with those who have mental challenges.

He is a published poet, has earned

. . . By current Pennsylvania law, a life

enough college credits to qualify for

sentence means that I will stay in prison

a degree, and is tireless in mentoring

until I die. With no second chances being

others. He has also been recognized

considered for a Lifer, what is actually

Pittsburgh was being ravaged with crack

by the prestigious writer’s organization

taking place is that even though I have

cocaine. And in February 1994, he had

PEN in its Prison Writing awards in 2015-

been through the process of reforming –

just been released from a psychiatric

16, winning the Dawson Prize for fiction

and also even assist others who want to

hospitalization.

and receiving an honorable mention

change – the oppression of incarceration

for his essay “Living Grave,” about DBI

moves forward without the motive that

sentences.

first secured it, and lacks the requisite

Malakki says, “When I turned to the
streets, I was dealing with anxiety. The

cause of the money being spent to sustain

street life was negative but it provided

He also suffers from a serious and

it (it costs taxpayers roughly $40,000 per

me with validation and affirmation. It

worsening case of Multiple Sclerosis.

inmate according to the Vera Institute

made me feel good, even though I

In the past year his condition has

of Justice). This cost escalates when a

knew it was bad.”

deteriorated so much that he now

prisoner like myself has a chronic illness.

requires the use of a wheelchair. At

. . . Keep[ing] a rehabilitated, senior,
physically handicapped Lifer behind
the wall for “public safety” is an
untruth that must be challenged.”

He made the fateful decision to rob

times his symptoms have flared up

a gun store. He became nervous,

and led to his losing the ability to

panicked, shot and killed the owner

speak. Cognitive difficulties, diminished

and then wounded another man. In

mobility, and pain have all grown worse.

1996 he was sentenced to death. He
spent 5 years in solitary confinement on

In another essay, “Behind Bars,” Malakki

death row before his death sentence

writes:

was reversed and a sentence of DBI
imposed.

81

82

1
Craig S. Lerner, Life Without Parole as a Conflicted Punishment, 48 Wake
Forest L. Rev. 1101, 1112-14 (2013).
2
Ashley Nellis, The Sentencing Project, Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life
Sentences in America 13 fig. 3 (2013).
3
Ashley Nellis, The Sentencing Project, Still Life: America’s Increasing Use of Life
and Long-Term Sentences 10 (2017).
4
Lerner, supra n. 1 at 1102.
5
http://www.prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison-populationtotal?field_region_taxonomy_tid=All
6
https://www.census.gov/popclock/
7
https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/abolitionist-and-retentionistcountries?scid=30&amp;did=140
8
Lerner, supra n. 1 at 1103.
9
Inquiries directed to or data obtained from the Department of Corrections of
each state that holds more people serving DBI than Philadelphia confirmed
that no individual county or parish was responsible for more people serving
DBI sentences than Philadelphia. Orleans Parish, Louisiana has a higher per
capita rate at 274 DBI sentences per 100,000 people. See Marcus M. Kondkar,
Incarceration in Louisiana: Sentencing Patterns in America’s Prison Capital. A
Report for Vital Projects Fund. (October 14, 2016).
10
Historical death-by-incarceration statistics were obtained from Pennsylvania
Department of Corrections historical Annual Statistical Reports unless
otherwise indicated. Historical reports are available at: http://www.cor.pa.gov/
About%20Us/Statistics/Pages/Old-Statistical-Reports.aspx
11
William W. Berry, Life-With-Hope Sentencing: The Argument for Replacing
Life-Without-Parole Sentences with Presumptive Life Sentences, 76 Ohio St.
L.J. 1051 (2015).
12
Berry, supra n. 11 at 1076. These three countries are Australia, the
Netherlands, and the United Kingdom (England and Wales).
13
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court art. 110(3), adopted July 1,
2002, 2187 U.N.T.S. 3.
14
Jessica S. Henry, Death-in-Prison Sentences: Overutilized and Underscrutinized,
in Life-Without-Parole: America’s New Death Penalty? 66, 78 (Charles J.
Ogletree, Jr. and Austin Sarat eds. 2012).
15
Henry, supra n. 14 at 78.
16
Lerner, supra n. 1 at 1112-1114.
17
Henry, supra n. 14 at 78.
18
Henry, supra n. 14 at 78.
19
Henry, supra n. 14 at 79.
20
Henry, supra n. 14 at 79.
21
Nellis, Life Goes On, supra n. 2 at 3. The list includes Massachusetts,
Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and West Virginia.
22
Nellis, Still Life, supra n. 3 at 9.
23
61 Pa.C.S. § 6137(a)(1). This section grants the Board of Probation and Parole
the authority to “release on parole any inmate to whom the power to parole is
granted to the board by this chapter, except an inmate condemned to death or
serving life imprisonment[.]”
24
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory DBI sentences were
unconstitutional when imposed on people who were juveniles at the time
of the offense. The Pennsylvania legislature subsequently amended the
homicide sentencing statute for those under the age of 18 at the time of the
offense convicted after 2012 to provide for sentences other than life-withoutparole.
25
Nellis, Still Life, supra n. 3 at 21 Table 8.
26
Unless otherwise indicated, all data pertaining to DBI in other jurisdictions
was obtained from: Nellis, Still Life, supra n. 3 (2017).
27
E. Ann Carson, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2016 9 Table 7
(January 2018).
28
World Prison Brief, Institute for Criminal Policy Research
http://www.prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison-populationtotal?field_region_taxonomy_tid=All
29
World Prison Brief, Institute for Criminal Policy Research
http://www.prisonstudies.org/country/finland

Pennsylvania Department of Justice, Bureau of Correction, Annual Statistical
Report 10 Table D (1977). Available at:
http://www.cor.pa.gov/About%20Us/Statistics/Documents/Old%20
Statistical%20Reports/1977%20Annual%20Statistical%20Report.pdf
31
World Prison Brief, Institute for Criminal Policy Research http://www.
prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison_population_rate?field_region_
taxonomy_tid=All
32
World Prison Brief, Institute for Criminal Policy Research http://www.
prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison_population_rate?field_region_
taxonomy_tid=All
33
https://www2.census.gov/geo/maps/metroarea/stcbsa_pg/Feb2013/
cbsa2013_PA.pdf
34
18 Pa.C.S. § 2501(a). Criminal homicide occurs where a person “intentionally,
knowingly, recklessly or negligently causes the death of another human being.”
35
18 Pa.C.S. § 2501(b).
36
18 Pa.C.S. § 2502(a).
37
18 Pa.C.S. § 1102(a).
38
18 Pa.C.S. § 2502(b).
39
18 Pa.C.S. § 2502(d).
40
18 Pa.C.S. § 1102(b).
41
18 Pa.C.S. § 2502(c).
42
18 Pa.C.S. § 1102(d).
43
42 Pa.C.S. § 9715(a).
44
Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012).
45
Commonwealth v. Batts, 163 A.3d 410 (Pa. 2017).
46
Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016).
47
http://www.cor.pa.gov/About%20Us/Initiatives/Pages/Juvenile-LifersInformation.aspx (last accessed June 4, 2018).
58
Includes offenses categorized as simply “murder” or “criminal homicide” with
no designation of degree and one conviction for voluntary manslaughter.
49
First-degree homicide does allow for individualized consideration when the
prosecution is seeking the death penalty. In those cases, a DBI sentence is the
minimum penalty. See 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711.
50
Quote from Lifelines interview: http://lifelines-project.org/2016/01/24/avislee-interview-1/.
51
See Women Lifers Resume Project page on Avis Lee for more
information on her accomplishments: http://docs.wixstatic.com/
ugd/161764_540d396b19ce417d8cb4c755d4fd13bd.pdf.
52
Quoted in Lifelines interview: http://lifelines-project.org/2016/01/24/avislee-interview-3/.
53
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Inmate Statistics as of December
31 2016. Available at: http://www.cor.pa.gov/About%20Us/Statistics/
Documents/Budget%20Documents/2016%20Inmate%20Profile.pdf
54
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Inmate Statistics as of December
31 2016. Available at: http://www.cor.pa.gov/About%20Us/Statistics/
Documents/Budget%20Documents/2016%20Inmate%20Profile.pdf
55
World Prison Brief, Institute for Criminal Policy Research
http://www.prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison_population_
rate?field_region_taxonomy_tid=All
56
See Jeffrey T. Ulmer and Darrell Steffensmeier, The Age and Crime
Relationship: Social Variation, Social Explanations, in The Nurture versus
Biosocial Debate in Criminology 377 (K. Beaver, B. Boutwell, and J.C. Barnes
eds. 2014).
57
Typical measures include rearrest rate (proportion of people released who
were arrested within the specified time frame, regardless of whether the arrest
led to new criminal charges or a conviction), reconviction rate (proportion
of people convicted of a new crime within the specified time frame), and
reincarceration rate (proportion of people released who were reincarcerated
after their release for any reason, typically either a parole violation or a new
criminal conviction).
58
Ashley Nellis, Throwing Away The Key, 23(1) Fed. Sent. R. 27, 28 (2010).
59
Advisory Committee on Geriatric and Seriously Ill Inmates, Joint State
Government Committee of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania, A Report of the Advisory Committee on Geriatric and Seriously Ill
Inmates (2005).
30

60
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Costs & Population 2 (2011).
Available at: http://www.cor.pa.gov/About%20Us/Statistics/Documents/
Budget%20Documents/2011%20Cost%20and%20Population.pdf
61
The American Friends Service Committee, Aging in Prison 4 (2017).
62
The American Friends Service Committee, supra n. 51 at 4.
63
M. Kay Harris, The Price of Life Sentences.
64
Johnson v. Wetzel, 209 F.Supp.3d 766, 782 (M.D.Pa. 2016)
65
Historical commutation statistics were obtained from Pennsylvania
Department of Corrections historical Annual Statistical Reports unless
otherwise indicated. Historical reports are available at: http://www.cor.pa.gov/
About%20Us/Statistics/Pages/Old-Statistical-Reports.aspx
66
Mark Singel, America The Jesuit Review, I pardoned a convict who killed
again. Here’s why I still believe in mercy (July 24, 2017). Available at:
https://www.americamagazine.org/pardon
67
Singel, supra n. 66.
68
Pa. Prison Soc’y v. Commonwealth, 776 A.2d 971 (2001).
69
Daniel Denvir, The Appeal, Pennsylvania Democratic Attorney General Shuts
Down Bids for Freedom (March 13, 2018). Available at: https://theappeal.org/
pennsylvania-democratic-attorney-general-shuts-down-bids-for-freedom4d75e56447d1/
70
Samantha Melamed, Sisters begged the Board of Pardons to free their
brother’s killer. The board said “no”, Philadelphia Inquirer (June 28, 2018).
71
Marie Gottschalk, No Way Out?, in Life-Without-Parole: America’s New Death
Penalty?, in Life-Without-Parole: America’s New Death Penalty? 227, 254 (Charles
J. Ogletree, Jr. and Austin Sarat eds. 2012).
72
Paul H. Robinson and John M. Darley, Does Criminal Law Deter? A
Behavioural Science Investigation, 24(2) Oxford J. of Legal Studies 173, 175
(2004).
73
Robinson and Darley, supra n. 72 at 173.
74
Gottschalk, supra n. 71 at 235.
75
James Austin and Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Brennan Institute for Justice, How
Many Americans are Unnecessarily Incarcerated? 36 (2016).
76
Danielle Sered, Vera Institute of Justice, Accounting for Violence: How to
Increase Safety and Break Our Failed Reliance on Mass Incarceration 4-5 (2017).
77
Robinson and Darley, supra n. 72 at 175-76.
78
Austin and Eisen, supra n. 75 at 36-37.
79
Gottschalk, supra n. 71 at 235.
80
Paul H. Robinson, Life Without Parole Under Modern Theories of Punishment, in
Life-Without-Parole: America’s New Death Penalty? 138, 140 (Charles J. Ogletree,
Jr. and Austin Sarat eds. 2012).
81
See e.g. Cohen, Alexandra O., et al., When is an Adolescent an Adult? Assessing
Cognitive Control in Emotional and Nonemotional Contexts, 27 Psychological
Science 549, 559 (2016).
82
Dan Markel, State, Be Not Proud: A Retributive Defense of the Commutation
of Death Row and the Abolition of the Death Penalty, 40 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev.
407, 435 (2005).
83
Markel, supra n. 82 at 436.
84
Markel, supra n. 82 at 438.
85
Josh Bowers, Mandatory Life and the Death of Equitable Discretion, in Life
Without Parole: American’s New Death Penalty? 25, 38 (Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.
and Austin Sarat eds. 2012).
86
This is not without good reason. Jurors who morally or philosophically
oppose death-by-execution sentences are typically disqualified from
serving in capital cases, so juries are by nature predisposed to imposing
death-by-execution sentences. The risk for many people sentenced to DBI in
Pennsylvania was even greater, especially in Philadelphia, where prosecutors,
such as Lynne Abraham—who was once dubbed America’s Deadliest DA—
have zealously pursued death-by-execution sentences, despite Pennsylvania
only actually carrying out three executions since the 1970s.
87
https://www.theotherdeathpenalty.org/
88
Kenneth Hartmann, University of Oxford Faculty of Law, Centre for
Criminology Blog, America’s Other Death Penalty Problem (March 30, 2015).
Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/centres-institutes/centre-criminology/
blog/2015/03/america%E2%80%99s-other-death-penalty-problem
89
Sered, supra n. 76 at 11-14.

See Gottschalk, supra n. 71 at 251-52.
Gottschalk, supra n. 71 at 235.
92
Alliance for Safety and Justice, Crime Survivors Speak 16 (2016).
93
Sered, supra n. 76 at 11.
94
Sered, supra n. 76 at 13.
95
Lorraine Haw, My Brother’s Killer was sentenced to death, but I hope he is
allowed to live, Philadelphia Inquirer (April 4, 2018).
96
Brief of Amici Curiae of Certain Family Members of Victims Killed by Youths In
Support of Petitioner 2, Montgomery v. Louisiana, Docket No. 14-280, Supreme
Court of the United States. Accessed at: http://www.scotusblog.com/wpcontent/uploads/2015/08/Montgomery_ Victims-Family-Members-Amicus.
pdf
97
Haw, supra n. 95.
98
Brief of Amici Curiae of Certain Family Members of Victims Killed by Youths In
Support of Petitioner 3, Montgomery v. Louisiana, Docket No. 14-280, Supreme
Court of the United States. Accessed at: http://www.scotusblog.com/wpcontent/uploads/2015/08/Montgomery_Victims-Family-Members-Amicus.
pdf
99
Haw, supra n. 95.
100
Nellis, Throwing Away The Key, supra n. 58 at 28.
101
Sered, supra n. 76 at 20.
102
Gottschalk, supra n. 71 at 235.
103
Ulmer and Steffensmeier, supra n. 56 at 382 fig. 23.1.
104
Austin and Eisen, supra n. 75 at 36.
105
Nellis, Throwing Away The Key, supra n. 58 at 28.
106
Advisory Committee on Geriatric and Seriously Ill Inmates, Joint State
Government Committee of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania, A Report of the Advisory Committee on Geriatric and Seriously Ill
Inmates (2005).
107
Advisory Committee on Geriatric and Seriously Ill Inmates, Joint State
Government Committee of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania, A Report of the Advisory Committee on Geriatric and Seriously Ill
Inmates (2005).
108
Samantha Melamed, 35 Years in prison, then 150 days of freedom: Philly’s first
juvenile lifer back in jail, Philadelphia Inquirer (April 27, 2018).
109
Marie Gottschalk, Days Without End: Life Sentences and Penal Reform, Prison
Legal News (January 15, 2012).
110
Nazhol Ghandnoosh, The Sentencing Project, Delaying a Second Chance:The
Declining Prospects for Parole on Life Sentences 29 (2017).
111
Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972).
112
Gottschalk, supra n. 71 at 255.
113
Sharon Dolovich, Creating the Permanent Prisoner, in Life-Without-Parole:
America’s New Death Penalty? 96, 99 (Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. and Austin Sarat
eds. 2012).
114
I. Bennett Capers, Defending Life, in Life-Without-Parole: America’s New Death
Penalty? 167, 179-80 (Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. and Austin Sarat eds. 2012).
115
Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 (1958).
116
Trop, 356 U.S. at 101.
117
Capers, supra n. 114 at 179-80.
118
Lerner, supra n. 1 at 1137.
119
Dolovich, supra n. 113 at 98.
120
Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. and Austin Sarat, Introduction: Lives on the Line: From
Capital Punishment to Life without Parole, in Life-Without-Parole: America’s New
Death Penalty? 1, 8 (Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. and Austin Sarat eds. 2012).
121
Gottschalk, supra n. 71 at 234.
122
Gottschalk, supra n. 71 at 234.
123
Nellis, Throwing Away The Key, supra n. 58 at 29.
124
Dolovich, supra n. 113 at 105-08.
125
Dolovich, supra n. 113 at 105-08; Henry, supra n. 14 at 75.
126
Gottschalk, supra n. 71 at 234.
127
Sered, supra n. 76 at 17.
128
Sered, supra n. 76 at 17.
129
Sered, supra n. 76 at 18.
130
Dolovich, supra n. 113 at 109.
131
Dolovich, supra n. 113 at 108.
90
91

83

Dolovich, supra n. 113 at 109.
Jonathan Simon, Dignity and Risk: The Long Road from Graham v. Florida to
Abolition of Life Without Parole, in Life-Without-Parole: America’s New Death
Penalty? 282, 283-84 (Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. and Austin Sarat eds. 2012).
134
Simon, supra n. 133 at 283-84.
135
Dolovich, supra n. 113 at 102.
136
Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 74 (2010).
137
Quoted from Lifelines, http://lifelines-project.org/2016/01/23/dawud-leeinterview-2/
138
For text of the legislation and other information visit
http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billInfo/billInfo.
cfm?sYear=2017&sInd=0&body=H&type=B&bn=135
139
http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billInfo/bill_history.
cfm?syear=2017&sind=0&body=H&type=B&bn=135
140
For text of the legislation and other information visit:
http://www.legis.state.pa.us//cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.
cfm?chamber=H&SPick=20170&cosponId=21420
141
http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billInfo/BillInfo.
cfm?syear=2017&sind=0&body=S&type=B&bn=942
132

133

84

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billInfo/bill_history.
cfm?syear=2017&sind=0&body=S&type=B&bn=942. The sponsors in addition to
Senator Street are senators Daylin Leach, Bob Mensch, and Art Haywood.
143
Quoted from Lifelines: Voices Against the Other Death Penalty, accessed at
http://lifelines-project.org/mechie-scott/
144
These and other accomplishments found at Women Lifers
Resume Project, accessed at http://docs.wixstatic.com/
ugd/161764_65f18d89d1414fe6be8e26f9d936e0b5.pdf
145
See Appendix for Model Sentence Review Policy, outlining the purpose
of the policy and a non-exhaustive articulation of factors to consider when
reviewing the appropriateness of a sentence.
146
Samantha Melamed and Chris Palmer, Philly lifers’ clemency plea hits a
roadblock in Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Philadelphia Inquirer (February 28,
2018).
147
Melamed and Palmer, supra n. 146.
148
https://decarceratepa.info/content/open-letter-attorney-generaljoshshapiro
149
Samantha Melamed, Sisters begged the Board of Pardons to free their
brother’s killer. The board said “no”, Philadelphia Inquirer (June 28, 2018).
142

85

86

APPENDIX
87

Statewide

APPENDIX A

88

Tables and Figures

COUNTY

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

COUNTY
POPULATION*

PER 100K

Adams

15

0.28%

101,407

14.79

Allegheny

541

10.12%

1,223,348

44.22

Armstrong

7

0.13%

68,941

10.15

Beaver

33

0.62%

170,539

19.35

Bedford

7

0.13%

49,762

14.07

Berks

119

2.23%

411,442

28.92

Blair

23

0.43%

127,089

18.10

Bradford

11

0.21%

62,622

17.57

Bucks

113

2.11%

625,249

18.07

Butler

19

0.36%

183,862

10.33

Cambria

17

0.32%

143,679

11.83

Cameron

0

0.00%

5,085

0.00

Carbon

11

0.21%

65,249

16.86

Centre

16

0.30%

153,990

10.39

Chester

80

1.50%

498,886

16.04

Clarion

4

0.07%

39,988

10.00

Clearfield

18

0.34%

81,642

22.05

Clinton

5

0.09%

39,238

12.74

Columbia

5

0.09%

67,295

7.43

Crawford

19

0.36%

88,765

21.40

Cumberland

34

0.64%

235,406

14.44

Dauphin

178

3.33%

268,100

66.39

Delaware

193

3.61%

558,979

34.53

Elk

4

0.07%

31,946

12.52

Erie

81

1.52%

280,566

28.87

Fayette

42

0.79%

136,606

30.75

Forest

4

0.07%

7,716

51.84

Franklin

27

0.51%

149,618

18.05

Fulton

0

0.00%

14,845

0.00

Greene

8

0.15%

38,686

20.68

Huntingdon

10

0.19%

45,913

21.78

Indiana

14

0.26%

88,880

15.75

Jefferson

9

0.17%

45,200

19.91

Juniata

5

0.09%

24,636

20.30

Lackawanna

36

0.67%

214,437

16.79

Lancaster

119

2.23%

519,445

22.91

Lawrence

14

0.26%

91,108

15.37

Lebanon

28

0.52%

133,568

20.96

Lehigh

94

1.76%

349,497

26.90

Luzerne

71

1.33%

320,918

22.12

Lycoming

18

0.34%

116,111

15.50

McKean

8

0.15%

43,450

18.41

Mercer

19

0.36%

116,638

16.29

Mifflin

2

0.04%

46,682

4.28

Monroe

40

0.75%

169,842

23.55

Montgomery

136

2.54%

799,874

17.00

Montour

1

0.02%

18,267

5.47

Northampton

69

1.29%

297,735

23.17

Statewide

APPENDIX A

Tables and Figures

Northumberland

15

0.28%

94,528

15.87

Out of State

10

0.19%

N/A

N/A

Perry

5

0.09%

45,969

10.88

Philadelphia

2,694

50.39%

1,526,006

176.54

Pike

9

0.17%

57,369

15.69

Potter

5

0.09%

17,457

28.64

Schuylkill

27

0.51%

148,289

18.21

Snyder

3

0.06%

39,702

7.56

Somerset

6

0.11%

77,742

7.72

Sullivan

1

0.02%

6,428

15.56

Susquehanna

3

0.06%

43,356

6.92

Tioga

7

0.13%

41,981

16.67

Union

2

0.04%

44,947

4.45

Venango

10

0.19%

54,984

18.19

Warren

7

0.13%

41,815

16.74

Washington

37

0.69%

207,820

17.80

Wayne

10

0.19%

52,822

18.93

Westmoreland

56

1.05%

365,169

15.34

Wyoming

4

0.07%

28,276

14.15

York

108

2.02%

434,972

24.83

Total

5,346

100.00%

12,702,379

42.09

*County population based on 2016 census estimates:
https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk

89

Statewide

APPENDIX A

Tables and Figures

PEOPLE SENTENCED TO DBI WHO ARE …

DBI SENTENCES BY CURRENT AGE RANGE

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

80+

40

0.75%

19-24

83

1.55%

75+

116

2.17%

25-29

357

6.68%

70+

281

5.26%

30-34

476

8.90%

65+

628

11.75%

35-39

660

12.35%

60+

1148

21.47%

40-44

725

13.56%

55+

1766

33.03%

45-49

668

12.50%

50+

2377

44.46%

50-54

611

11.43%

45+

3045

56.96%

55-59

618

11.56%

40+

3770

70.52%

60-64

520

9.73%

35+

4430

82.87%

65-69

347

6.49%

30+

4906

91.77%

70-74

165

3.09%

25+

5263

98.45%

75-79

76

1.42%

20+

5343

99.94%

80+

40

0.75%

19+

5346

100.00%

TOTAL

5,346

100.00%

AGE:

RACIAL DISPARITIES IN DBI SENTENCES

90

19-24
80

83
357

25-29

76%
60

DBI SENTENCES:

476

30-34

660

35-39

65%

725

40-44

% of Total

668

45-49

% of State Population

611

50-54

40

618

55-59

520

60-64

25%

20

347

65-69

165

70-74

11%

9%

0
BLACK

WHITE

6%

LATINX

1%

7%

75-79
80+

OTHERS

76
40

DBI SENTENCES BY RACE
RACE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

STATE
POPULATION

% OF STATE
POPULATION

PER 100K

Black

3,483

65.15%

1,377,689

10.85%

252.81

White

1,323

24.75%

9,686,628

76.26%

13.66

Latinx

477

8.92%

719,660

5.67%

66.28

Asian

34

0.64%

352,741

2.78%

9.64

Indigenous

11

0.21%

26,843

0.21%

40.98

Other

18

0.34%

538,818

4.24%

3.34

Total

5,346

100.00%

12,702,379

100.00%

42.09

Statewide

APPENDIX A

Tables and Figures

PEOPLE SENTENCED TO DBI WHO ARE …

DBI SENTENCES - AGE RANGE AT COMMITMENT

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

>18

118

2.21%

>18

118

2.21%

21 or younger

1,447

27.07%

18-21

1,329

24.86%

25 or younger

2,841

53.14%

22-25

1,394

26.08%

30 or younger

3,906

73.06%

26-30

1,065

19.92%

35 or younger

4,510

84.36%

31-35

604

11.30%

40 or younger

4,875

91.19%

36-40

365

6.83%

45 or younger

5,085

95.12%

41-45

210

3.93%

50 or younger

5,212

97.49%

46-50

127

2.38%

55 or younger

5,284

98.84%

51-55

72

1.35%

60 or younger

5,314

99.40%

56-60

30

0.56%

65 or younger

5,332

99.74%

61-65

18

0.34%

70 or younger

5,340

99.89%

66-70

8

0.15%

74 or younger

5,346

100.00%

71-74

6

0.11%

Total

5,346

100.00%

DBI SENTENCES BY TIME SERVED

91

DBI SENTENCES BY TIME SERVED

TIME SERVED

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

YEARS IN DOC

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

0-4

539

10.08%

50+

9

0.17%

5-9

686

12.83%

45+

79

1.48%

10-14

685

12.81%

40+

303

5.67%

15-19

694

12.98%

35+

635

11.88%

20-24

792

14.81%

30+

1196

22.37%

25-29

754

14.10%

25+

1950

36.48%

30-34

561

10.49%

20+

2742

51.29%

35-39

332

6.21%

15+

3436

64.27%

40-44

224

4.19%

10+

4121

77.09%

45-49

70

1.31%

5+

4807

89.92%

50-55

9

0.17%

0+

5346

100.00%

Total

5,346

100.00%

DBI SENTENCES BY GENDER

RACE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

STATE
POPULATION

Men

5,145

96.24%

6,261,194

82.17

Women

201

3.76%

6,523,033

3.08

Total

5,346

100.00%

12,784,227

41.82

PER 100K

Statewide

APPENDIX A

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES – YEAR OF COMMITMENT TO DOC
50

40

30

20

10

0

92

1980

1982

1984

1986

1988

1990

1992

1994

1996

1998

2000

2002

2004

2006

2008

2010

2012

2014

2016

DBI SENTENCES IN PENNSYLVANIA: DEATHS PER YEAR
200

150

100

50

0
1962

1968

1976

1984

1992

2000

2008

2016

APPENDIX A

Statewide

PEOPLE SERVING DBI
SENTENCES AT YEAR END

Tables and Figures

DEATHS OF PEOPLE SERVING DBI SENTENCES

YEAR

DBI
SENTENCES

YEAR

DBI
SENTENCES

DEATHS

CUMULATIVE TOTAL
DEATHS

1974

498

1980

878

6

6

1975

572

1981

962

5

11

1976

650

1982

1074

4

15

1977

707

1983

1195

8

23

1978

756

1984

1311

7

30

1979

826

1985

1429

8

38

1980

878

1986

1544

7

45

1981

962

1987

1674

5

50

1982

1074

1988

1858

8

58

1983

1195

1989

1964

10

68

1984

1311

1990

2139

10

78

1985

1429

1991

2291

13

91

1986

1544

1992

2459

11

102

1987

1674

1993

2614

11

113

1988

1858

1994

2806

14

127

1989

1964

1995

2973

19

146

1990

2139

1996

3128

19

165

1991

2291

1997

3283

20

185

1992

2459

1998

3495

24

209

1993

2614

1999

3616

23

232

1994

2806

2000

3627

36

268

1995

2973

2001

3752

13

281

1996

3128

2002

3859

31

312

1997

3283

2003

3984

33

345

1998

3495

2004

4091

35

380

1999

3616

2005

4216

41

421

2000

3627

2006

4340

15

436

2001

3752

2007

4451

29

465

2002

3859

2008

4574

29

494

2003

3984

2009

4706

27

521

2004

4091

2010

4829

32

553

2005

4216

2011

4971

30

583

2006

4340

2012

5121

39

622

2007

4451

2013

5254

28

650

2008

4574

2014

5352

41

691

2009

4706

2015

5431

53

744

2010

4829

2016

5478

43

787

2011

4971

2012

5121

2013

5254

2014

5352

2015

5431

2016

5478

93

Philadelphia

APPENDIX B

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY RACE

RACE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF COUNTY
TOTAL

% OF STATE
TOTAL

COUNTY
POPULATION

% OF COUNTY
POPULATION

PER 100K

Black

2,250

83.52%

42.09%

661,839

43.37%

339.96

White

153

5.68%

2.86%

438,610

28.74%

34.88

Latinx

260

9.65%

4.86%

187,611

12.29%

138.58

Other

31

1.15%

0.58%

237,946

15.59%

13.03

Total

2,694

100.00%

50.39%

1,526,006

100.00%

176.54

RACIAL DISPARITIES IN DBI SENTENCES
80

84%
% of DBI Sentences
% of County Population

60

94
40

43%
29%

20

6%

0
BLACK

WHITE

10% 12%
LATINX

16%
1%
OTHERS

DBI SENTENCES BY YEAR
120
100
80
60
40
20
0
1962

1968

1976

1984

1992

2000

2008

2016

Philadelphia

APPENDIX B

Tables and Figures

PEOPLE SENTENCED TO DBI WHO ARE …

AGE RANGE AT COMMITMENT

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

80+

16

0.59%

>18

50

1.86%

75+

55

2.04%

18-21

738

27.39%

70+

119

4.42%

22-25

756

28.06%

65+

270

10.02%

26-30

564

20.94%

60+

566

21.01%

31-35

273

10.13%

55+

876

32.52%

36-40

149

5.53%

50+

1190

44.17%

41-45

80

2.97%

45+

1580

58.65%

46-50

44

1.63%

40+

1923

71.38%

51-55

24

0.89%

35+

2252

83.59%

56-60

8

0.30%

30+

2488

92.35%

61-65

5

0.19%

25+

2660

98.74%

66-70

1

0.04%

20+

2694

100.00%

71-74

2

0.07%

TOTAL

2,694

100.00%

PEOPLE SERVING DBI
WHO STARTED SENTENCE AT …

DBI SENTENCES BY TIME SERVED

95

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

>18

50

1.86%

50+

2

0.07%

21 or younger

788

29.25%

45+

27

1.00%

25 or younger

1,544

57.31%

40+

151

5.61%

30 or younger

2,108

78.25%

35+

310

11.51%

35 or younger

2,381

88.38%

30+

641

23.79%

40 or younger

2,530

93.91%

25+

1114

41.35%

45 or younger

2,610

96.88%

20+

1524

56.57%

50 or younger

2,654

98.52%

15+

1854

68.82%

55 or younger

2,678

99.41%

10+

2158

80.10%

60 or younger

2,686

99.70%

5+

2468

91.61%

65 or younger

2,691

99.89%

0+

2694

100.00%

70 or younger

2,692

99.93%

74 or younger

2,694

100.00%

DBI SENTENCES IN PHILADELPHIA BY OFFENSE

OFFENSE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF COUNTY
TOTAL

% OF STATE
TOTAL

1st Deg. Murder

1,859

69.01%

34.77%

2nd Deg. Murder

612

22.72%

11.45%

3rd Deg. Murder

28

1.04%

0.52%

Murder/ Criminal Homicide

189

7.02%

3.54%

Sexual Offenses

1

0.04%

0.02%

Other Offenses

5

0.19%

0.09%

TOTAL

2,694

100.00%

50.39%

Allegheny County

APPENDIX C

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY RACE

96

RACE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF
TOTAL

COUNTY
POPULATION

% OF COUNTY
POPULATION

Black

409

75.60%

161,861

13.23%

252.69

White

128

23.66%

978,225

79.96%

13.08

Latinx

1

0.18%

19,070

1.56%

5.24

Other

3

0.55%

64,192

5.25%

4.67

TOTAL

541

100.00%

1,223,348

100.00%

44.22

PER 100K

DBI SENTENCES BY CURRENT AGE RANGE

PEOPLE SENTENCED TO DBI WHO ARE …

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

19-24

7

1.29%

80+

3

0.55%

25-29

48

8.87%

75+

5

0.92%

30-34

59

10.91%

70+

25

4.62%

35-39

57

10.54%

65+

64

11.83%

40-44

91

16.82%

60+

109

20.15%

45-49

60

11.09%

55+

154

28.47%

50-54

65

12.01%

50+

219

40.48%

55-59

45

8.32%

45+

279

51.57%

60-64

45

8.32%

40+

370

68.39%

65-69

39

7.21%

35+

427

78.93%

70-74

20

3.70%

30+

486

89.83%

75-79

2

0.37%

25+

534

98.71%

80+

3

0.55%

20+

541

100.00%

19+

541

100.00%

TOTAL

541

100.00%

PEOPLE SERVING DBI
WHO STARTED SENTENCE AT …
AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

>18

11

2.03%

21 or younger

155

28.65%

25 or younger

299

55.27%

30 or younger

406

75.05%

35 or younger

459

84.84%

40 or younger

501

92.61%

45 or younger

523

96.67%

50 or younger

535

98.89%

55 or younger

537

99.26%

60 or younger

538

99.45%

65 or younger

539

99.63%

70 or younger

541

100.00%

Allegheny County

APPENDIX C

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY AGE AT COMMITMENT
AGE:

DBI SENTENCES:

11

>18
18–21

144

22–25

144
107

26-30

53

31–35

42

36–40

22

41–45

12

46–50
51–55

2

56–60

1

61–65

1

66–70

2

97
DBI SENTENCES BY OFFENSE
OFFENSE

DBI
SENTENCES

DBI SENTENCES BY TIME SERVED
% OF TOTAL

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

1

0.18%

1st Deg. Murder

352

65.06%

50+

2nd Deg. Murder

135

24.95%

45+

15

2.77%

3rd Deg. Murder

5

0.92%

40+

29

5.36%

8.87%

35+

63

11.65%

116

21.44%

Murder/ Criminal Homicide

48

Sexual Offense

1

0.18%

30+

Other Offense

0

0.00%

25+

175

32.35%

20+

258

47.69%

15+

333

61.55%

10+

408

75.42%

5+

495

91.50%

0+

541

100.00%

TOTAL

541

100.00%

Delaware County

APPENDIX D

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY RACE

98

RACE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF
TOTAL

COUNTY
POPULATION

% OF COUNTY
POPULATION

PER 100K

Black

131

67.88%

110,260

19.73%

118.81

White

44

22.80%

388,696

69.54%

11.32

Latinx

13

6.74%

16,537

2.96%

78.61

Other

5

2.59%

43,486

7.78%

11.50

Total

193

100.00%

558,979

100.00%

34.53

PEOPLE SENTENCED TO DBI WHO ARE …

AGE RANGE AT COMMITMENT

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

80+

4

2.07%

>18

9

4.66%

75+

5

2.59%

18-21

46

23.83%

70+

9

4.66%

22-25

55

28.50%

65+

30

15.54%

26-30

39

20.21%

60+

43

22.28%

31-35

15

7.77%

55+

66

34.20%

36-40

12

6.22%

50+

83

43.01%

41-45

6

3.11%

45+

101

52.33%

46-50

6

3.11%

40+

127

65.80%

51-55

3

1.55%

35+

152

78.76%

56-60

1

0.52%

30+

172

89.12%

61-65

0

0.00%

25+

190

98.45%

66-70

0

0.00%

20+

193

100.00%

71-74

1

0.52%

TOTAL

193

100.00%

Delaware County

APPENDIX D

PEOPLE SERVING DBI
WHO STARTED SENTENCE AT …

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY TIME SERVED

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

YEARS IN DOC

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

>18

9

4.66%

45+

2

1.04%

21 or younger

55

28.50%

40+

14

7.25%

25 or younger

110

56.99%

35+

31

16.06%

30 or younger

149

77.20%

30+

48

24.87%

35 or younger

164

84.97%

25+

62

32.12%

40 or younger

176

91.19%

20+

97

50.26%

45 or younger

182

94.30%

15+

127

65.80%

50 or younger

188

97.41%

10+

156

80.83%

55 or younger

191

98.96%

5+

174

90.16%

60 or younger

192

99.48%

0+

193

100.00%

65 or younger

192

99.48%

70 or younger

192

99.48%

74 or younger

193

100.00%

	

DBI SENTENCES IN BY OFFENSE

99

OFFENSE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

1st Deg. Murder

115

59.59%

2nd Deg. Murder

63

32.64%

3rd Deg. Murder

3

1.55%

Murder/ Criminal Homicide

11

5.70%

Sexual Offense

0

0.00%

Other Offense

1

0.52%

TOTAL

193

100.00%

Montgomery County

APPENDIX E

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY RACE

100

RACE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF
TOTAL

COUNTY
POPULATION

% OF COUNTY
POPULATION

PER 100K

Black

92

67.65%

69,351

8.67%

132.66

White

35

25.74%

614,788

76.86%

5.69

Latinx

8

5.88%

34,233

4.28%

23.37

Other

1

0.74%

81,502

10.19%

1.23

Total

136

100.00%

799,874

100.00%

17.00

PEOPLE SENTENCED TO DBI WHO ARE …

AGE RANGE AT COMMITMENT

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

75+

2

1.47%

>18

1

0.74%

70+

8

5.88%

18-21

35

25.74%

65+

15

11.03%

22-25

37

27.21%

60+

22

16.18%

26-30

26

19.12%

55+

37

27.21%

31-35

17

12.50%

50+

52

38.24%

36-40

8

5.88%

45+

62

45.59%

41-45

6

4.41%

40+

80

58.82%

46-50

2

1.47%

35+

100

73.53%

51-55

1

0.74%

30+

120

88.24%

56-60

1

0.74%

25+

131

96.32%

61-65

0

0.00%

20+

136

100.00%

66-70

0

0.00%

71-74

2

1.47%

TOTAL

136

100.00%

Montgomery County

APPENDIX E

PEOPLE SERVING DBI
WHO STARTED SENTENCE AT …

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY TIME SERVED

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

YEARS IN DOC

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

>18

1

0.74%

45+

5

3.68%

21 or younger

36

26.47%

40+

7

5.15%

25 or younger

73

53.68%

35+

11

8.09%

30 or younger

99

72.79%

30+

18

13.24%

35 or younger

116

85.29%

25+

31

22.79%

40 or younger

124

91.18%

20+

52

38.24%

45 or younger

130

95.59%

15+

70

51.47%

50 or younger

132

97.06%

10+

96

70.59%

55 or younger

133

97.79%

5+

117

86.03%

60 or younger

134

98.53%

0+

136

100.00%

65 or younger

134

98.53%

70 or younger

134

98.53%

74 or younger

136

100.00%

DBI SENTENCES IN BY OFFENSE

101

OFFENSE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

1st Deg. Murder

94

69.12%

2nd Deg. Murder

30

22.06%

3rd Deg. Murder

0

0.00%

Murder/ Criminal Homicide

10

7.35%

Sexual Offense

1

0.74%

Other Offense

1

0.74%

TOTAL

136

100.00%

Bucks County

APPENDIX F

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY RACE

102

RACE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF
TOTAL

COUNTY
POPULATION

% OF COUNTY
POPULATION

PER 100K

Black

37

32.74%

22,376

3.58%

165.36

White

70

61.95%

530,865

84.90%

13.19

Latinx

3

2.65%

26,782

4.28%

11.20

Other

3

2.65%

45,226

7.23%

6.63

Total

113

100.00%

625,249

100.00%

18.07

PEOPLE SENTENCED TO DBI WHO ARE …

AGE RANGE AT COMMITMENT

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

80+

0

0.00%

>18

4

3.54%

75+

5

4.42%

18-21

18

15.93%

70+

8

7.08%

22-25

29

25.66%

65+

15

13.27%

26-30

24

21.24%

60+

31

27.43%

31-35

13

11.50%

55+

53

46.90%

36-40

10

8.85%

50+

68

60.18%

41-45

5

4.42%

45+

78

69.03%

46-50

3

2.65%

40+

90

79.65%

51-55

4

3.54%

35+

102

90.27%

56-60

2

1.77%

30+

109

96.46%

61-65

0

0.00%

25+

113

100.00%

66-70

1

0.88%

TOTAL

136

100.00%

Bucks County

APPENDIX F

PEOPLE SERVING DBI
WHO STARTED SENTENCE AT …

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY TIME SERVED

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

YEARS IN DOC

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

>18

4

3.54%

50+

1

0.88%

21 or younger

22

19.47%

45+

2

1.77%

25 or younger

51

45.13%

40+

10

8.85%

30 or younger

75

66.37%

35+

24

21.24%

35 or younger

88

77.88%

30+

37

32.74%

40 or younger

98

86.73%

25+

52

46.02%

45 or younger

103

91.15%

20+

63

55.75%

50 or younger

106

93.81%

15+

72

63.72%

55 or younger

110

97.35%

10+

90

79.65%

60 or younger

112

99.12%

5+

99

87.61%

65 or younger

112

99.12%

0+

113

100.00%

70 or younger

113

100.00%

DBI SENTENCES IN BY OFFENSE

103

OFFENSE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

1st Deg. Murder

83

73.45%

2nd Deg. Murder

18

15.93%

3rd Deg. Murder

0

0.00%

Murder/ Criminal Homicide

8

7.08%

Sexual Offense

2

1.77%

Other Offense

2

1.77%

TOTAL

113

100.00%

Chester County

APPENDIX G

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY RACE

104

RACE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF
TOTAL

COUNTY
POPULATION

% OF COUNTY
POPULATION

PER 100K

Black

43

53.75%

30,623

6.14%

140.42

White

27

33.75%

394,204

79.02%

6.85

Hispanic

9

11.25%

32,503

6.52%

27.69

Others

1

1.25%

41,556

8.33%

2.41

Total

80

100.00%

498,886

100.00%

16.04

PEOPLE SENTENCED TO DBI WHO ARE …

AGE RANGE AT COMMITMENT

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

80+

0

0.00%

>18

1

1.25%

75+

2

2.50%

18-21

17

21.25%

70+

6

7.50%

22-25

22

27.50%

65+

12

15.00%

26-30

13

16.25%

60+

18

22.50%

31-35

13

16.25%

55+

27

33.75%

36-40

6

7.50%

50+

33

41.25%

41-45

4

5.00%

45+

41

51.25%

46-50

1

1.25%

40+

57

71.25%

51-55

2

2.50%

35+

68

85.00%

56-60

1

1.25%

30+

72

90.00%

25+

78

97.50%

TOTAL

80

100.00%

20+

80

100.00%

Chester County

APPENDIX G

PEOPLE SERVING DBI
WHO STARTED SENTENCE AT …

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY TIME SERVED

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

YEARS IN DOC

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

>18

1

1.25%

40+

2

2.50%

21 or younger

18

22.50%

35+

13

16.25%

25 or younger

40

50.00%

30+

19

23.75%

30 or younger

53

66.25%

25+

27

33.75%

35 or younger

66

82.50%

20+

34

42.50%

40 or younger

72

90.00%

15+

46

57.50%

45 or younger

76

95.00%

10+

60

75.00%

50 or younger

77

96.25%

5+

68

85.00%

55 or younger

79

98.75%

0+

80

100.00%

60 or younger

80

100.00%

DBI SENTENCES IN BY OFFENSE

OFFENSE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

1st Deg. Murder

47

58.75%

2nd Deg. Murder

24

30.00%

3rd Deg. Murder

0

0.00%

Murder/ Criminal Homicide

9

11.25%

Sexual Offense

0

0.00%

Other Offense

0

0.00%

TOTAL

80

100.00%

105

Dauphin County

APPENDIX H

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY RACE

106

RACE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF
TOTAL

COUNTY
POPULATION

% OF COUNTY
POPULATION

PER 100K

Black

124

69.66%

48,386

18.05%

256.27

White

35

19.66%

176,115

65.69%

19.87

Latinx

17

9.55%

18,795

7.01%

90.45

Others

2

1.12%

24,804	

9.25%

8.06

Total

178

100.00%

268,100

100.00%

66.39

PEOPLE SENTENCED TO DBI WHO ARE …

AGE RANGE AT COMMITMENT

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

80+

1

0.56%

>18

8

4.49%

75+

2

1.12%

18-21

49

27.53%

70+

11

6.18%

22-25

42

23.60%

65+

25

14.04%

26-30

31

17.42%

60+

38

21.35%

31-35

24

13.48%

55+

57

32.02%

36-40

13

7.30%

50+

72

40.45%

41-45

3

1.69%

45+

89

50.00%

46-50

2

1.12%

40+

110

61.80%

51-55

3

1.69%

35+

129

72.47%

56-60

1

0.56%

30+

155

87.08%

61-65

2

1.12%

25+

169

94.94%

20+

176

98.88%

TOTAL

178

100.00%

19+

178

100.00%

Dauphin County

APPENDIX H

PEOPLE SERVING DBI
WHO STARTED SENTENCE AT …

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY TIME SERVED

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

YEARS IN DOC

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

>18

8

4.49%

45+

5

2.81%

21 or younger

57

32.02%

40+

18

10.11%

25 or younger

99

55.62%

35+

28

15.73%

30 or younger

130

73.03%

30+

44

24.72%

35 or younger

154

86.52%

25+

56

31.46%

40 or younger

167

93.82%

20+

83

46.63%

45 or younger

170

95.51%

15+

95

53.37%

50 or younger

172

96.63%

10+

117

65.73%

55 or younger

175

98.31%

5+

148

83.15%

60 or younger

176

98.88%

0+

178

100.00%

65 or younger

178

100.00%

DBI SENTENCES IN BY OFFENSE

107

OFFENSE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

1st Deg. Murder

108

60.67%

2nd Deg. Murder

27

15.17%

3rd Deg. Murder

0

0.00%

Murder/ Criminal Homicide

40

22.47%

Sexual Offense

3

1.69%

Other Offense

0

0.00%

TOTAL

80

100.00%

Berks County

APPENDIX I

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY RACE

108

RACE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF
TOTAL

COUNTY
POPULATION

% OF COUNTY
POPULATION

PER 100K

Black

32

26.89%

20,143

4.90%

158.86

White

37

31.09%

274,813

66.79%

13.46

Latinx

49

41.18%

67,335

16.37%

72.77

Others

1

0.84%

49,151

11.95%

2.03

TOTAL

119

100.00%

411,442

100.00%

28.92

PEOPLE SENTENCED TO DBI WHO ARE …

AGE RANGE AT COMMITMENT

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

80+

2

1.68%

>18

2

1.68%

75+

2

1.68%

18-21

29

24.37%

70+

7

5.88%

22-25

30

25.21%

65+

11

9.24%

26-30

21

17.65%

60+

20

16.81%

31-35

20

16.81%

55+

29

24.37%

36-40

9

7.56%

50+

40

33.61%

41-45

5

4.20%

45+

54

45.38%

46-50

0

0.00%

40+

73

61.34%

51-55

1

0.84%

35+

98

82.35%

56-60

0

0.00%

30+

112

94.12%

61-65

2

1.68%

25+

117

98.32%

20+

119

100.00%

TOTAL

178

100.00%

Berks County

APPENDIX I

PEOPLE SERVING DBI
WHO STARTED SENTENCE AT …

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY TIME SERVED

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

YEARS IN DOC

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

>18

2

1.68%

50+

1

0.84%

21 or younger

31

26.05%

45+

3

2.52%

25 or younger

61

51.26%

40+

5

4.20%

30 or younger

82

68.91%

35+

9

7.56%

35 or younger

102

85.71%

30+

18

15.13%

40 or younger

111

93.28%

25+

30

25.21%

45 or younger

116

97.48%

20+

45

37.82%

50 or younger

116

97.48%

15+

63

52.94%

55 or younger

117

98.32%

10+

89

74.79%

60 or younger

117

98.32%

5+

107

89.92%

65 or younger

119

100.00%

0+

119

100.00%

DBI SENTENCES IN BY OFFENSE

109

OFFENSE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

1st Deg. Murder

82

68.91%

2nd Deg. Murder

27

22.69%

3rd Deg. Murder

0

0.00%

Murder/ Criminal Homicide

8

6.72%

Sexual Offense

0

0.00%

Other Offense

2

1.68%

TOTAL

80

100.00%

Lancaster County

APPENDIX J

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY RACE

110

RACE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF
TOTAL

COUNTY
POPULATION

% OF COUNTY
POPULATION

PER 100K

Black

38

31.93%

19,035

3.66%

199.63

White

48

40.34%

415,241

79.94%

11.56

Latinx

29

24.37%

44,930

8.65%

64.54

Others

4

3.36%

40,239

7.75%

9.94

TOTAL

119

100.00%

519,445

100.00%

22.91

PEOPLE SENTENCED TO DBI WHO ARE …

AGE RANGE AT COMMITMENT

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

80+

2

1.68%

>18

8

6.72%

75+

3

2.52%

18-21

21

17.65%

70+

6

5.04%

22-25

37

31.09%

65+

12

10.08%

26-30

21

17.65%

60+

20

16.81%

31-35

12

10.08%

55+

31

26.05%

36-40

7

5.88%

50+

42

35.29%

41-45

5

4.20%

45+

56

47.06%

46-50

2

1.68%

40+

74

62.18%

51-55

4

3.36%

35+

93

78.15%

56-60

1

0.84%

30+

106

89.08%

61-65

0

0.00%

25+

117

98.32%

66-70

0

0.00%

20+

119

100.00%

71-74

1

0.84%

TOTAL

119

100.00%

Lancaster County

APPENDIX J

PEOPLE SERVING DBI
WHO STARTED SENTENCE AT …

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY TIME SERVED

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

YEARS IN DOC

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

>18

8

6.72%

50+

0

0.00%

21 or younger

29

24.37%

45+

2

1.68%

25 or younger

66

55.46%

40+

5

4.20%

30 or younger

87

73.11%

35+

10

8.40%

35 or younger

99

83.19%

30+

16

13.45%

40 or younger

106

89.08%

25+

28

23.53%

45 or younger

111

93.28%

20+

50

42.02%

50 or younger

113

94.96%

15+

68

57.14%

55 or younger

117

98.32%

10+

85

71.43%

60 or younger

118

99.16%

5+

99

83.19%

65 or younger

118

99.16%

0+

119

100.00%

70 or younger

118

99.16%

74 or younger

119

100.00%

111

DBI SENTENCES IN BY OFFENSE

OFFENSE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

1st Deg. Murder

88

73.95%

2nd Deg. Murder

25

21.01%

3rd Deg. Murder

0

0.00%

Murder/ Criminal Homicide

5

4.20%

Sexual Offense

1

0.84%

Other Offense

0

0.00%

TOTAL

119

100.00%

York County

APPENDIX K

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY RACE

112

RACE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF
TOTAL

COUNTY
POPULATION

% OF COUNTY
POPULATION

PER 100K

Black

44

40.74%

24,344

5.60%

180.74

White

46

42.59%

360,738

82.93%

12.75

Hispanic

18

16.67%

24,397

5.61%

73.78

Other

0

0.00%

25,493

5.86%

0.00

TOTAL

108

100.00%

434,972

100.00%

24.83

PEOPLE SENTENCED TO DBI WHO ARE …

AGE RANGE AT COMMITMENT

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

80+

1

0.93%

>18

2

1.85%

75+

3

2.78%

18-21

26

24.07%

70+

9

8.33%

22-25

32

29.63%

65+

14

12.96%

26-30

15

13.89%

60+

22

20.37%

31-35

13

12.04%

55+

43

39.81%

36-40

8

7.41%

50+

54

50.00%

41-45

4

3.70%

45+

62

57.41%

46-50

5

4.63%

40+

74

68.52%

51-55

3

2.78%

35+

84

77.78%

30+

91

84.26%

TOTAL

108

100.00%

25+

102

94.44%

20+

108

100.00%

York County

APPENDIX K

PEOPLE SERVING DBI
WHO STARTED SENTENCE AT …

Tables and Figures

DBI SENTENCES BY TIME SERVED

AGE

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

YEARS IN DOC

DBI SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

>18

2

1.85%

50+

0

0.00%

21 or younger

28

25.93%

45+

0

0.00%

25 or younger

60

55.56%

40+

10

9.26%

30 or younger

75

69.44%

35+

19

17.59%

35 or younger

88

81.48%

30+

28

25.93%

40 or younger

96

88.89%

25+

43

39.81%

45 or younger

100

92.59%

20+

50

46.30%

50 or younger

105

97.22%

15+

60

55.56%

55 or younger

108

100.00%

10+

77

71.30%

5+

86

79.63%

0+

108

100.00%

DBI SENTENCES IN BY OFFENSE

OFFENSE

DBI
SENTENCES

% OF TOTAL

1st Deg. Murder

75

69.44%

2nd Deg. Murder

24

22.22%

3rd Deg. Murder

0

0.00%

Murder/ Criminal Homicide

9

8.33%

Sexual Offense

0

0.00%

Other Offense

0

0.00%

TOTAL

108

100.00%

113

114

APPENDIX L
115

Model Sentence Review Policy

I

n any appeal filed by a defendant serving a life-without-

Case Review: Cases will be reviewed based on all

parole sentence or in a submission presented to the

relevant information, whether it was admitted at trial

District Attorney’s Office (DAO) that raises a claim of arguable

or not, and whether it would be admissible or not. The

merit challenging the conviction or sentence the Sentence

review should include any mitigation information provided,

Review Unit will agree to vacate the conviction and enter

including information about the defendant’s childhood

into an agreement to accept a plea to third degree homicide

and adolescence and evidence of rehabilitation during

or other appropriate charge when the equities of the

incarceration. The following is a non-exclusive list of criteria

case, including but not limited to any mitigating evidence

that must be considered in relevant cases, and any one of

presented to the DAO, circumstances of and the defendant’s

these may, in the appropriate case, justify the imposition of a

role in the offense, and behavior and rehabilitation during

sentence less than LWOP:

incarceration warrant the imposition of a sentence that
allows for release from prison.

•	 18-25 year olds: Recent U.S. Supreme Court
jurisprudence has recognized that the age-related

116

In cases submitted to the DAO, either before or after the

characteristics of youth render juveniles less culpable

filing of an appeal, that make a prima facie showing of an

than adults and therefore has prohibited the mandatory

excessive sentence, the DAO will initiate a comprehensive

imposition of DBI. These cases have been predicated

review and reconsideration of the charging and sentencing

on neuro- and social science that has established that

outcome. When the facts and circumstances of the case

adolescent brain development continues into the mid-20s.

warrant it the DAO will pursue a negotiated re-sentencing

These age-related characteristics of youth must be taken

by means of a Vacate-and-Plea agreement, wherein the

into account in reviewing the total circumstances of a DBI

defendant shall file an appeal and the DAO will agree

case.

to concede relief based on the claim(s) of the appeal
contingent on the defendant accepting a plea to a lesser
offense that permits release from prison.

•	 Felony-Murder/Second Degree Convictions:
These are convictions based on participation in the
underlying felony that resulted in a homicide. These

The policy will be implemented in similar fashion and

offenses do not require the defendant to have had any

parallel to the review of innocence claims. Here the focus

intent to kill, and frequently ensnare people who did

is not on wrongful convictions, but instead on excessive

not have such an intent. Almost all instances of second-

sentences. A task force, committee, or staff within the

degree homicide will be prima facie excessive and

Conviction Review Unit should be commissioned to review

deserving of relief.

cases submitted to the DAO directly or via a PCRA or other
appellate filing. This task force should also create guidelines

•	 Intellectual Disability: This is another category of

for review of such cases based on input from advocacy

diminished culpability recognized by the U.S. Supreme

organizations and according to the criteria suggested in the

Court as sufficient to prohibit the imposition of the death

implementation section of this memo.

penalty. It should be recognized as sufficient to prohibit a
death-by-incarceration LWOP sentence as well.

•	 Childhood/Adolescent trauma: Criminal offenses are

Re-sentencing: In those cases where the DAO decides

often committed after the failures of many systems

that the balance of equities justifies a lesser sentence then

and institutions from the familial to the societal levels.

the DAO will seek a lesser sentence through a vacate-and-

How these impact a child or adolescent have severe

plea agreement entered into between the defendant and

consequences and the extent to which an individual’s life

the DAO. The “balance of equities” in the context of this

trajectory was shaped by trauma, abuse, poverty, neglect,

policy refers to the fundamental fairness and justification

etc. must be considered when assessing the injustice of a

of a criminal penalty. The appeal filed with the court shall

DBI sentence.

raise arguable legal claims that are case-specific and
that support a claim for relief, and the DAO will forego

•	 Evidence of rehabilitation during incarceration: This

procedural defenses to meritorious claims in the interest of

information is important in assessing whether re-

pursuing justice through a fair and just re-assessment of the

sentencing is appropriate as the DAO should be assessing

appropriate penalty for the offense(s) at issue.

the conviction and sentence in light of its continuing
public safety validity. Rehabilitated individuals and those
who pose no appreciable risk to public safety are strong
candidates for re-entry to the community. Their records
should be assessed as part of the balance of equities by
the DAO.

117

118

119

 

 

The Habeas Citebook Ineffective Counsel Side
Advertise here
The Habeas Citebook Ineffective Counsel Side