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Life Sentence Commutations

December 12, 2022

David Rudovsky and Kathleen M. Brown advocate the continuation of the commutation process and reform legislation providing for life with parole.

In an op-ed at The Philadelphia Inquirer, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School Senior Fellow David Rudovsky and Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice affiliated faculty Kathleen M. Brown GNu’79, GrN’98 argue that criminal justice policies should be based on “reliable data and not, as was the case in the U.S. Senate campaign, on raw appeals to fear.”

Rudovsky and Brown co-authored “Fetterman was vilified for promoting life sentence communications, but research shows his approach is the right one.” Rudovsky is one of the nation’s leading civil rights and criminal defense attorneys and practices public interest law with the firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin, LLP. Brown, a Practice Associate Professor of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, has done pathbreaking work on commutations in Pennsylvania.

From The Philadelphia Inquirer:

The recent campaign for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania was marked by a highly contentious attack on John Fetterman’s role in rejuvenating a dormant commutation process for persons serving life sentences without parole. He was accused of releasing dangerous murderers at a time when there has been a spike in homicides in Philadelphia.

David Rudovsky David RudovskyAs is often the case on politically divisive issues, the rhetoric ignored reality. We understand the differing viewpoints on criminal punishment, but those beliefs cannot justify the intentional distortion of reform programs. There is strong empirical evidence that rigid life without parole sentencing in Pennsylvania does not provide for greater public safety. To the contrary, this practice has long resulted in disproportionate punishment, no greater public safety, and large economic costs to imprison older and nondangerous persons.

Kathleen M. Brown Kathleen M. BrownThe great majority of states impose life sentences with the possibility of parole. For the crime of felony murder, where one can be convicted without causing or intending a death, Pennsylvania is one of only six states that have a mandatory sentence of life without parole for offenses other than intentional and deliberate first-degree murder.

In Pennsylvania, the only “safety valve” is commutation, which permits the governor to make persons eligible for parole. For the period of 1950 through the late 1970s, that process worked well, with the commutation of a majority of persons initially sentenced to life without parole, and no discernible impact on violent crime rates.

Read the full op-ed at The Philadelphia Inquirer.