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House of Representatives
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: December 15, 2016 01:49 PM
From: Representative Jason Dawkins
To: All House members
Subject: Parole Eligibility Expansion for Life Sentences (Re-Introduction)
In the near future, I will be re-introducing legislation – former House Bill 2135 of the 2015-2016 Legislative Session – that would abolish life without parole in Pennsylvania and extend parole eligibility to those sentenced to life imprisonment.

Few other nations authorize life without parole (LWOP). Only three European nations have laws permitting life sentences for which the only mechanism for release is executive clemency. There may be as few as 100 inmates serving LWOP in Europe. Additionally, many countries in Latin America and Asia do not have LWOP as part of their penal code. Even among those countries that do impose LWOP, the United States does so far more often than any other. Pennsylvania had the second highest LWOP population in the nation as of 2008.

All life sentences in Pennsylvania are imposed without the possibility of parole. This means that individuals sentenced to life imprisonment may not be considered for parole, no matter how much they have reformed themselves and no matter how unlikely they are to reoffend. Those sentenced to LWOP in Pennsylvania also have no chance at release when they grow so ill or elderly they pose little to no risk to the public. Not only does this represent an injustice to an individual who is a model inmate despite having no chance at life outside of prison, but it also creates an avoidable expense for the corrections system – and the taxpayers who fund it – by incarcerating individuals longer than necessary.

My legislation permits an individual sentenced to life imprisonment under the laws of this Commonwealth to be considered for parole after spending at least 15 years in prison. It also extends parole eligibility retroactively to those sentenced prior to the effective date of the legislation. My bill creates no right to parole, so it will not allow our most dangerous inmates to go free. Our Board of Probation and Parole will continue to responsibly reject requests for parole from those who do not deserve it, or who present too great a safety risk to the public.

Please join me in co-sponsoring this legislation so that we may give the Board of Probation and Parole discretion to consider the circumstances of each inmate serving a life sentence.

Introduced as HB135