Living and Dying Behind Bars

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Last week, a California teenager learned that he will live, and die, in prison. He is 14 years old, convicted of the attempted murder of a police officer. He didn’t receive the death penalty. The judge sentenced him to spend the rest of his years behind bars, with no chance of parole, ever.

The natural life term, as it’s called in criminal justice jargon, applied to just 12,000 American prisoners a decade ago. Today, more than 31,000 men and women are locked up forever. For judges and juries, a natural life sentence is an appealing alternative to the death penalty, a way of providing finality without firing up the electric chair.

But prisoners’ advocates say that even the most violent criminals deserve a chance to redeem themselves, and a chance at freedom.


Daniel Bergner, author, God of the Rodeo: The Quest for Redemption in Louisiana’s Angola Prison

Dan Levey, President, National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children

Roger Thomas, Deputy Warden of York County Prison in York, Pennsylvania