Dear Governor Brown,
As grassroots, advocacy, and social justice organizations, we are writing to urge you to commute the sentences of all people serving Life Without Parole (LWOP) in California’s prisons to parole-eligible sentences.
Life Without Parole sentencing is increasingly being challenged and limited across the United States. We believe that life without parole is inhumane. It denies that people have the capacity to change, grow and be rehabilitated, and thus is known as “the other death penalty” by those serving it and by their families.
As you know, many states, including California, are legislating against sentencing youth to Life Without Parole.[i] Now it is time to take action to mitigate the impact for all people sentenced to die in prison due to this endless punishment. While commuting a sentence does not guarantee release from prison, it does guarantee that each person will have the right to see the parole board in their lifetime, rather than being sentenced to a “living death.”
People of color are disproportionately sentenced to LWOP, revealing prosecutorial bias and racial discrimination.[ii] Of the nearly 200 people serving LWOP in CA women’s prisons, the overwhelming majority are survivors of abuse, including intimate partner battering, childhood abuse, sexual violence and sex trafficking. [iii] Additionally, the majority are first-time “offenders,” and had no record prior to being sentenced to Life Without Parole.
All 5,000 people serving LWOP in CA prisons are subjected to institutional discrimination, such as:
- They are barred from rehabilitation programs, including the majority of state-run self-help programs because of their sentences.
- Though they are required to pay restitution, they are only eligible for jobs that pay the lowest hourly wage, currently only eight cents per hour. Because they are barred from access to higher wage opportunities, they often cannot pay restitution, and this economic burden falls on their families.
- They are ineligible for Elder Parole and Compassionate Release when aging and terminally ill.
We urge you to take a bold stance against Life Without Parole sentencing and let California serve as a model for the rest of the nation. Please continue to take leadership on this issue and commute all those sentenced to LWOP to parole-eligible sentences, initiate a process to eliminate life without parole from the California Penal Code, and provide people sentenced to LWOP with opportunities for rehabilitation and redemption.
[i] Senate Bill 9: Fair Sentencing for Youth. http://fairsentencingforyouth.org/legislation/senate-bill-9-california-fair-sentencing-for-youth/
[ii] “Racial Disparities in Sentencing,” American Civil Liberties Union, Hearing on Reports of Racism in the Justice System of the United States, Submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 153rd Session, October 27, 2014.
[iii] Data gathered by CCWP members incarcerated at Central California Women’s Facility and California Institution for Women. This data reflects national statistics reported by the ACLU that nearly 60% of people in women’s prisons nationwide are survivors of physical or sexual abuse, and that survivors make up 94% of the population in some women’s prisons. “Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003,” American Civil Liberties Union. https://www.aclu.org/other/prison-rape-elimination-act-2003-prea?redirect=prisoners-rights-womens-rights/prison-rape-elimination-act-2003-prea