Parole Review For All

What We Believe
Today there are more than 1,050 men and women in Massachusetts serving lifelong prison sentences that offer no hope of parole. Such sentences assume that these individuals are incapable of personal redemption and rehabilitation, and of becoming productive members of society.

How can anyone – judges, jurors, prosecutors – know what changes will happen within an individual a decade later? Two decades hence? Life presents most of us with challenges, often when least expected. Some of us change, some don’t. To expect a court to decide that an individual is forever beyond redemption is to expect that court to have a gift of prophecy no one on earth has. We don't have the ability to know what an individual will be like decades hence.

Since the 1970s there has been an exponential increase in the use of life sentences, for both first degree which requires “malice aforethought” or extreme cruelty, and second degree murder. 3
But that is in no way reflective of the level of violent crime which has fallen since the 1980s. Nationally, the decrease in the murder rate from 1980 to the present is 48%; 1 all violent crimes have decreased 34% in the same period.2

Yet the use of life sentences for murder has continued to increase during the same period. Additionally, in 2012 the MA legislature passed a “three strikes” bill (H.4286) which requires a life sentence for some 20 offenses when that offense is the third felony; 18 of those offenses do not involve the taking of a life.

Unlike death penalty convictions in other states in which the penalty phase is a distinct court process, those convicted of murder in MA or of a third strike felony have no opportunity during the trial to introduce mitigating conditions such as childhood trauma, adult abuse or addictions, which conditions might justify a lesser sentence being imposed.
In 2017, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ passed a resolution calling on the MA General Assembly to eliminate all life sentencing and instead make parole available for all those incarcerated. And Pope Francis, in 2012, delivering a speech to the International Association of Penal Law, called all life sentences a “hidden death penalty,” which the Catholic Church opposes.

We believe prisons should be houses of healing for all within. A life sentence holding out the possibility of parole after 25 years, available to all so sentenced, would motivate more individuals to commit themselves to meaningful rehabilitation and would recognize that people can change. Lengthy sentences could become an avenue for growth rather than solely a means of retribution.

An extensive discussion may be found in;
"Life Without Parole: A Reconsideration"
. Hardcopy available here:
PRFA c/o Nat Harrison
106A Franklin St.
Watertown, MA 02472

Sponsored by...
Criminal Justice Policy Coalition,