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Ashley Nellis

Ashley Nellis, Tinkering with Life: A Look at the Inappropriateness of Life Without Parole as an Alternative to the Death Penalty, 67 University of Miami Law Review 439 (Winter 2013) (117 Footnotes)

Advocacy campaigns to eliminate the death penalty in the United States have made significant advances in recent years. Death sentences have been outlawed in five states since 2001, and even in the thirty-four states where they are still allowed, many states have not carried out an execution in years. Still, the United States keeps terrible company with other nations including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, ranking fifth worldwide in the number of executions in 2011. In that year, the United States was the only western democracy to carry out executions.

The declining use of executions in the United States shows that as a practice it is slowly falling out of favor in growing proportions of the country. The momentum of death penalty abolition and reform work can be attributed largely to a combination of the accomplishments of the innocence movement, the demonstrated exorbitant cost of the sentence, and the lengthy appeals process. It has become increasingly difficult to justify the death penalty's continued use in spite of differing views one may hold on punishment more generally. Those who raise concerns about efficacy now join with those who oppose the death penalty on moral grounds to create a sizable, diverse portion of the American public. The strategies utilized by the death penalty abolition campaign have broadened its support network by reaching out to atypical allies and have succeeded in making death sentences less palatable to a wider audience. Over the same period of time, the sentences of life without possibility of parole (“LWOP”) have soared.

Figure 2. Growth in LWOP Population, 1992-2008 (Omitted)

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. And while LWOP is certainly not the only sanction in need of reform, it is the most logical place to begin because of the troubling qualities it shares with the death penalty in America.