September 19, 2018
"A Way Out: Abolishing Death By Incarceration in Pennsylvania"
Over the last 25 years, the number of people serving life-without-parole, or death-by-incarceration (DBI), sentences in the United States has exploded from 12,453 people in 1992 to over 53,000 people today — 10% of whom are incarcerated in Pennsylvania.
With over 5,300 people sentenced to DBI and one of the highest per capita DBI 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 States and far more than any individual country in the world.
In 1974, fewer than 500 people were serving DBI sentences in Pennsylvania. As of September 2017, 5,346 people are serving death-by-incarceration sentences in Pennsylvania. Despite a 21% decline in violent crime between 2003 and 2015, Pennsylvania’s population of people sentenced to DBI has risen by 40% between 2003 and 2016.6 Pennsylvania ranks near the top of every measure of DBI sentences across the country....
Like most measures of the criminal legal system, death-by-incarceration sentences disproportionately impact communities of color. Black Pennsylvanians 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 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.
Among other interesting aspects of this big report is this introductory note about terminology:
Throughout this report we use the term Death By Incarceration (DBI) when referring to life-withoutparole (LWOP) sentences. We do this for several reasons. First, it is the preferential term selected by incarcerated people that we work with who are serving these sentences, and we are a movement-lawyering organization that is accountable to the movements we work with. Second, it focuses on the ultimate fact of the sentence, which is that the only way it ends, barring extraordinary relief from a court or the Board of Pardons, is with death. Third, DBI invokes the social death experienced by the incarcerated, as they are subject to degraded legal status, diminished rights, excluded from social and political life, tracked with an “inmate number” like a piece of inventory, and warehoused for decades in this subjugated status. Finally, although DBI in this report is used to refer to LWOP sentences, the DBI label indicates that our concern is not merely with LWOP sentences, but inclusive of other term-of-years sentences that condemn a person to die in prison.
September 19, 2018 at 10:19 AM | Permalink
George Orwell is rolling over in his grave. I would say that I am shocked, but we have had thirty years of seeing that what matters in political debate are not the merits of the position but what label ends up being used. If you can get the public using your labels, the label itself implies that there is a problem and that your solution is right.
This very post, however, reflects the reality on the ground in trial courts. With the death penalty on the decline, the abolition movement has found its next target -- LWOP. All the claims that we don't need the death penalty because we can go with LWOP are now tossed out the window in the service of the new position that LWOP is evil too.
Posted by: tmm | Sep 19, 2018 5:19:07 PM