Sentencing Alternatives

Life Without Parole

Considering the economic and social costs of capital punishment, including the risk of executing innocent people, many believe that life without parole, or LWOP, is a preferable alternative to capital punishment. LWOP is a sentencing alternative in all 29 states that practice the death penalty, in addition to the federal government and U.S. Military. Of the 21 states that do not practice the death penalty, Alaska is the only state that does not permit life without parole as a possible sentence.

Among the nine states that have abolished the death penalty since 2007, all utilize sentences of life without parole. Four states require unanimous jury agreement to life without parole for the LWOP-eligible defendant to be sentenced. Three states impose an automatic LWOP sentence if the defendant is found guilty of an LWOP-eligible crime, and one state—Maryland—requires final sentencing by a judge.

Death Penalty States
offering Life Without Parole*
(29/29 states)
ArizonaLouisianaSouth Carolina
ArkansasMississippiSouth Dakota
GeorgiaNorth CarolinaVirginia
KansasOregonFederal Statute
Military Statute

* Note that “three strikes” laws in some states may make life without parole available for at least some offenders in those states.

Non-Death Penalty States offering Life Without Parole (20/21 states)
ConnecticutMassachusettsNew York
HawaiiMichiganNorth Dakota
IllinoisMinnesotaRhode Island
MaineNew HampshireWest Virginia
MarylandNew JerseyWisconsin
DelawareNew MexicoWashington

plus District of Columbia

[Alaska does not have life without parole]