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For Tsarnaev, would life without parole be less humane than death?

May 13, 2015
In the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, a sentence of life without parole is seen as a more humane alternative to the death penalty. But are life sentences actually humane?

On Wednesday, a jury will begin deliberations on whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, should be executed for his crime.

In his case, a sentence of life without parole is seen as the more humane option. The alternative is death, and “there is some evidence that, as states turn more to life without parole, it is partly from a humane desire to move away from the ultimate punishment,” reports the Christian Science Monitor. “Yet the rapid expansion of life without parole also speaks the array of laws, spawned by the get-tough-on-crime 1980s, that remain on the books and mandate such sentences.”

The Sentencing Project has documented a historic rise in life sentences in the United States, with the lifer population more than quadrupled in size since 1984 while violent crime rates have continued to decline.

Meanwhile, a growing body of research suggests many people “age out” of criminal behavior. A 2004 report by The Sentencing Project notes that individuals released after receiving life sentences with parole were rearrested at much lower rates than the overall prison population – 21 percent versus 68 percent.

Nearly 2,500 of the 50,000 inmates sentenced to life without parole were convicted of crimes that occurred before they turned 18, The Sentencing Project found.

“People will debate if people are deserving of long term sentences and if societies should punish, and that’s a legitimate debate to have,” says Marc Mauer, director of The Sentencing Project. “[But] we do know there are many people who have changed substantially after a couple decades of incarceration and don’t present nearly the public safety risk they did at the time of their crime.”

Read the full article at the Christian Science Monitor.

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