Policy Issues

Sentencing Alternatives

Alternative sentences, such as life without parole, avoid some of the key problems with capital punishment, including the high cost of the death penalty and the risk of executing an innocent person.

DPIC Podcast: Discussions With DPIC

DPIC Podcast: Discussions With DPIC

Missouri Attorney Discusses Winning Life Sentence in Federal Prison-Killing Case


Increasingly, discussion around the death penalty has shifted from a moral debate to a comparison of capital punishment to its viable alternatives. The choice today for jurors, legislators, and the courts is between the death penalty and the sentence of life without parole. All states that have the death penalty also have a sentence of life without parole (LWOP). Victims’ families often prefer LWOP to the uncertainty and the spectacle of the death penalty. Many prosecutors have come to the conclusion that the costs associated with capital cases are not worth their limited resources, especially since so many cases are overturned. As the use of LWOP has expanded, the number of death sentences has declined dramatically.

In addition to the use of LWOP, states have also looked beyond punishment to alternative ways of reducing violent crime, including community policing, the introduction of crime-fighting technology, and restorative justice. The money saved from not seeking the death penalty can be used to support those initiatives.

At Issue

Although prosecutors often allow a capital defendant to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, many are reluctant to eliminate the death penalty itself because they see it as a bargaining chip. This role of the death penalty as a threat is suspect on both ethical and constitutional grounds.

Some opponents of capital punishment also question the use of life-without-parole sentences as another form of a death sentence and note its expanded use even in non-capital cases.

What DPIC Offers

Many opinion polls today contrast the death penalty with LWOP, and DPIC has collected the results of those surveys. DPIC provides research on when each state’s legislature adopted LWOP. It also examines how LWOP is arrived at in a particular case if the jury cannot agree on a death sentence.

News & Developments

Sentencing Alternatives

Oct 07, 2021

Report: More Women Serving Extreme Sentences in the United States

The num­ber of women serv­ing extreme sen­tences in the United States has increased sharply in the last decade, a September 2021 report by a col­lab­o­ra­tive of crim­i­nal law reform orga­ni­za­tions has found. The report,