Life Without Parole : Worse Than Death? book cover
1st Edition

Life Without Parole
Worse Than Death?

ISBN 9780367752699
Published April 15, 2022 by Routledge
256 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

This book is an in-depth critical examination of all pertinent aspects of life without parole (LWOP). Empirically assessing key arguments that advance LWOP, including as an alternative to the death penalty, it reveals that not only is the punishment cruel while not providing any societal benefits, it is actually detrimental to society.

Over the last 30 years, LWOP has exploded in the United States. While the use of capital punishment over that same time period has declined, it must be recognized that LWOP is, in fact, a hidden death sentence. It is, however, implemented in a way that allows society to largely ignore this truth. While capital punishment has rightfully been subject to intense debate and scholarship, LWOP has mostly escaped such scrutiny. In fact, LWOP has been touted by both death penalty abolitionists and by tough-on-crime conservatives, which has allowed it to flourish under the radar. Specifically, abolitionists have advanced LWOP as a palatable alternative to capital punishment, which they perceive as inhumane, error-prone, costly, and racially biased. Conservatives, meanwhile, advocate for LWOP as an effective means of fighting crime, a just form of retribution, and necessary tool for managing incorrigible offenders. This book seeks to tap into and help inform this growing debate by subjecting these key arguments to empirical scrutiny. The results of those analyses fail to produce any evidence in support of any of those various justifications and therefore suggest that LWOP should be abolished and replaced with life sentences that come with parole eligibility after a maximum of 25 years.

The book will be of great interest to students and scholars of criminology and criminal justice and will also have crossover appeal into the fields of law, political science, and sociology. It will also appeal to criminal justice professionals, lawmakers, activists, and attorneys, as well as death penalty abolitionists, opponents of mass incarceration, advocates for sentencing reform, and supporters of prisoners’ rights.

Table of Contents


List of Figures

List of Tables

Introduction: Meet the New Death Penalty: Life Without Parole


Part I: Examining the Abolitionist Case for LWOP

1. Is LWOP Inhumane? The View from Death Row

The Phenomenon of Death Row "Volunteers"

The Perspective of the Non-Volunteers

The Experience of Being Resentenced from Death to LWOP



2. Is LWOP Inhumane? The View from Those Serving LWOP

Execution and "Execution by Installment": Perceptions of Those Serving Informal and Formal Death Sentences

On "Being Dead While You're Still Alive": A Study of California’s Recent Propositions to Abolish the Death Penalty

The Pains of Permanent Imprisonment: Quantitative and Qualitative Findings

"An Inescapable Burden": Maturation and Change Under Permanent Punishment

"An Invisible Entity:" The Experiences of Women Perpetually Incarcerated

Conclusion: Life Without Parole "Picks You Apart"


3. LWOP and Human Rights: The View from Abroad

By the Numbers

LWOP and Human Rights Worldwide

Final Thoughts


4. Worse Than Death: Innocence and Access to the Courts

Super Due Process, Life, and Death

Super Due Process and Innocence

Methodological Appendix



5. The Price of Life: The Financial Burden of LWOP

Yes, Death Sentences Cost More Than Life Sentences

But Those Costs Save Lives

And There Are More Life Sentences



6. LWOP as Racial Control

The Death Penalty is Racial Control and LWOP is the Death Penalty

LWOP Targets the Disadvantaged

Juvenile LWOP

Conclusion: A War on Which Crimes?


Part II: Examining the "Tough-On-Crime" Case for LWOP

7. LWOP and the War on Crime

Enactment of LWOP Statutes and Violent Crime

The Effect of Using LWOP More Frequently on Violent Crime


Methodological Appendix


8. Is LWOP Just Retribution or Cruel & Unusual Punishment?

LWOP Violates the Core Principles of Retribution

Retribution Does Not Benefit Most Victims



9. The Power of Second Chances: Stories of Redemption

The Subjects

Early Days in Prison

Maturation, the Influence of their Elders, and the Road to Redemption

Finding Redemption and Giving Back



Conclusion & Recommendations

Policy Recommendations



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Ross Kleinstuber is an Associate Professor of Justice Administration & Criminology at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. His research focuses on the intersection of law and society, capital punishment, life without parole, mass incarceration, racial inequality in the justice system, and human rights abuses.

Jeremiah Coldsmith holds a PhD in sociology. His individual research focuses on the intersection of identity and stratification, and as a methodologist and statistician, he has an active research, in collaboration with Dr. Kleinstuber, that focuses on quantifying LWOP’s effects on violent crime rates.

Margaret E. Leigey is a Professor and Chair of Criminology at The College of New Jersey. Her research explores the experiences of those serving life without parole, in particular aging individuals, those who were sentenced as juveniles, and women.

Sandra Joy a Professor of Sociology at Rowan University,  licensed clinical social worker,  mental health clinician, and  activist in the movement to abolish capital punishment and LWOP. Her research explores the grief and loss issues confronting the families of those on death row, life without parole, and coalition politics in the anti-death penalty movement.


"The authors meticulously examine each justification used in America's unyielding reliance on sentences of life without the possibility of parole. Readers will come away from this book convinced that such extreme sentences are both inhumane and unnecessary on public safety grounds." - Ashley Nellis, Senior Research Analyst, The Sentencing Project

"Life Without Parole offers readers a comprehensive account of the role and impact of LWOP in the US. The book relies on various sources and methods, including the powerful voices of individuals who are serving life without the possibility of parole to illustrate the human and societal costs of this form of punishment. I recommend this book to those who study criminal justice sanctions, as well as those seeking to reduce inequality in the justice system." - Professor Nancy Rodriguez, Department of Criminology, Law and Society, University of California, Irvine

"Life Without Parole by Ross Kleinstuber, Jeremiah Coldsmith, Margaret Leigey and Sandra Joy makes a clear and compelling case that LWOP—life without parole—is a death penalty in its own right that should be abolished. This sanction, we learn from compelling interviews with affected inmates, is no more humane than capital punishment and may indeed create more suffering and injustice than the traditional death penalty. Real reform requires sentences that offer hope of release from prison, however tenuous that hope might be in individual cases." - Professor Rob Johnson, Justice, Law, & Criminology, American University