Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sentencing Project on LWOP and Clemency

We note the Sentencing Project's recent publication Life Goes On: The Historic Rise of Life Sentences in America contains the following passage (at page 19):

One might think that clemency is an option for relief from an LWOP sentence, but governors nationwide have denied virtually all clemency requests over the past three decades.46 Petitioners must depend on a shift in the political landscape in order to hope for relief through clemency. One’s readiness for release should be a decision that is determined by a panel equipped to review the prisoner’s original sentence and his or her rehabilitation since then, rather than being subject to the political atmosphere.

Some states have eased the ways in which inmates can be released from long sentences, And, in June 2009, a federal judge in Pennsylvania reaffirmed a lower-court ruling that eases the clemency request process for Pennsylvania inmates serving life sentences which began before 1997. Before this time, pardon recommendations required a simple majority vote by the state Pardons Board before being passed to the governor for review, but the law changed in late 1997 to require a unanimous vote instead. The present ruling allows inmates sentenced before 1997, perhaps as many as 3,000, to apply for a pardon under these earlier rules.

Pennsylvania is not alone in modifying its clemency application procedures; other states have made changes too. Unfortunately, these early release valves are rarely used. In Wisconsin, for instance, the Governor expanded a policy in 2009 that permits LWOP inmates to petition for release on the basis of age and infirmity but so far there have not been any inmates released under this policy. Virginia and several other states have a mechanism in place for geriatric release, but this, too, is rarely utilized.
See the full report here.

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