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The Appeal: The Death Penalty Is Part Of A Larger System of Punishment

January 31, 2020
As the number of people on death row decreases, the number of people serving life sentences has risen. Abolishing the death penalty should not serve as a way to replace one extreme sentence with another—but as a first step to reform extreme sentences altogether, says The Sentencing Project's Ashley Nellis.

As the number of people on death row decreases, the number of people serving life sentences has risen. Abolishing the death penalty should not serve as a way to replace one extreme sentence with another—but as a first step to reform extreme sentences altogether, says The Sentencing Project’s Ashley Nellis.

This pairing of opposition to capital punishment with an embrace of life without parole sentences bears some responsibility for where we are today, with over 53,000 people sentenced to die in prison. In 2015, Ashley Nellis of the Sentencing Project and an author of the “The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences,” explored the tensions between death penalty abolition work and efforts to end extreme sentencing in a law review article. The “rapid rise in LWOP [life without parole] sentences” she wrote, “can partly be attributed to a desire for a reliable, terminal punishment to replace the death penalty after it was declared unconstitutional in 1972.” But, Nellis said, it does not have to be this way: “Strategies to abolish the death penalty can be improved upon by viewing the successful elimination of the death penalty as just the first step on the road to the reformation of extreme sentences altogether. In this view, the efforts to eliminate the death penalty are not in conflict with efforts to eliminate LWOP.”

What is important, she wrote, was not just whether the death penalty is abolished but why. “The reasons why American society will eventually decide to eliminate the death penalty as a punishment are as important as the outcome—maybe more so.”

Read the full article from The Appeal’s Vaidya Gullapalli here.

 
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