Death by Incarceration

Did you know that Pennsylvania is one of the few states left in the country which still mandates life-without-parole for first- and second-degree homicide? In fact, Pennsylvania has the 2nd largest population sentenced to life-without-parole in America. Of these 5,300 inmates, most committed their crimes in their early 20s, and many of them are now elderly prisoners who pose no risk to public safety and languish in prisons at a tremendous cost to you and me, the tax-payers. The average cost of keeping a person in prison for life is $3.6 million (just one person!). Imagine the many more useful ways we could spend that money. Many of these “lifers” never took a life or intended to kill but were merely an accomplice in a crime in which someone was killed. Many of those who did take a life have, over the years they have grown up and grown older, turned their lives around. Yet they must live out the rest of their lives in prison and ultimately die there, which is why some people call life-without-parole Death by Incarceration.

The Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration (CADBI), a partnership of faith communities throughout our state, supports legislation to allow persons convicted of homicide to be considered for (not guaranteed) parole after serving 35 years if convicted after 15 years of age and after 25 years if convicted before 15 (which, in my opinion, is still a harsh sentence). At the urging of UUPLAN and two of our members who have devoted years to criminal justice reform work, Dana Kelley and Irene Mehnert, I have joined several other ministers, priests, and rabbis across the state in signing a Statement of Faith endorsing parole eligibility for people sentenced to life in prison. Furthermore, whole congregations of various faiths – Friends, Mennonite, Moravian, Jewish, Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and Unitarian – have signed this statement. I am very proud that at their October meeting, our Trustees gave their unanimous consent to sign it as “the Board of Trustees of Main Line Unitarian Church.”

The statement says in part: As a people of faith, we support legislation that would allow for parole eligibility for those serving life sentences. This is because we believe in the full humanity of those harmed by violence and those who perpetrate harm.

The current system is centered on punishment. We want a system that encourages transformation and accountability, and where those who have perpetrated harm can try to atone for some of the harm they caused. We believe everyone should have the chance to go before the parole board to demonstrate that they have changed. We believe in the human capacity for redemption and the possibility of a second chance for those who have done the hard work to redeem themselves.

As UUs, we would put it this way: We affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person and justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Thank you, Dana and Irene, and thank you, Trustees.


With appreciation,