Life-Without-Parole Sentences Rise in Ohio

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Sentences of life in prison without parole are increasing in Ohio, adding momentum to a move away from the death penalty. While some are pleased with the shift from capital cases, which are costly to process, others say that life without parole has its own drawbacks: It doesn’t allow for the possibility that offenders can change, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The number of Ohio inmates sentenced to life without parole has jumped by 150 percent, from 283 in 2010 to 703 through February. Ohio is far from alone. A report by the national Sentencing Project says life without parole is the fastest-growing type of life sentence. It coincides with the drop in the number of death-penalty cases.

In 2010, Ohio prosecutors filed 73 indictments seeking execution. Last year, they filed 19, a drop of 74 percent. In 1990, at the height of the nation’s get-tough approach on crime, prosecutors brought 173 indictments. The decline of death-penalty indictments and the spike in the number of life without parole sentences appears to have a moral component. “Life without parole has become the sentence that jurors are more comfortable with,” said Kevin Werner of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center. “It is more preferable than the death penalty. We are realizing that mistakes can be made.” Michael Benza, a senior instructor at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law, agreed: “If a person is sentenced to life without parole and a mistake is made, we can fix it. We can’t fix mistakes after an execution.” Nationally, more than 53,000 inmates are serving life without parole, up from 33,793 in 2003, according to the Sentencing Project.

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