By Jane Dorotik
Today at the California Institute for Women, there are 19 women who have been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Their profiles, their individual sentencing factors, their time incarcerated and their in-prison behavior exemplify two specific factors:
The main reason these women received this inhumane sentence is not because their crime was so much more egregious than any other serious crime. It is well recognized that the imposition of an LWOP sentence, as opposed to a term-to-life sentence, is much more a reflection of the judicial climate of the county where the prisoner is convicted, and the political aspirations of that particular district attorney.
These women present no greater threat to public safety, if released into the community, than any other life prisoner. All of these women have been disciplinary-free for many years and present no danger to their community. Virtually all of them committed one single crime many years ago and are very unlikely to ever do so again. No one is attempting to minimize the tragedy of the occurrence, but are these women kept behind bars because they are a danger to society or to satisfy some perverted sense of blood lust for their crime?
We are specifically advocating that these women be considered eligible for an Elderly Alternative Custody Program (in other words, be eligible to spend the rest of their years in the community with an ankle bracelet).
These women have collectively spent 544 years in prison. Utilizing an average life expectancy of age 80, they will spend another 355 remaining years collectively behind prison bars. Recognizing that all but five of these women are currently “Golden Girls,” costing an average of $138,000, per year, per woman, to continue to incarcerate (and assuming the cost of incarceration will remain at today’s costs), the state will spend an additional $48,000 per inmate to keep these 19 women behind bars for the rest of their lives.
The question becomes: is this really a wise use of valuable state funds?
Human Rights Watch publication Old Behind Bars, January 2012, asks the following question: “Does the continued incarceration of the aging and infirm constitute disproportionately severe punishment that violates human rights even assuming acceptable conditions of confinement?”
In a recent report, No Exit, The Expanded Use of Life Sentences in America, one of the recommendations for reform in eliminating sentences of life without parole.
–Jane Dorotik is a prisoner at the California Institute for Women.