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 30 states that practice the death penalty, in addition to the federal government and U.S. Military. Of the 20 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 eight 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. Two 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*
(30/30 states)
Alabama Kentucky Oregon
Arizona Louisiana Pennsylvania
Arkansas Mississippi South Carolina
California Missouri South Dakota
Colorado Montana Tennessee
Florida Nevada Texas
Georgia New Hampshire Utah
Idaho North Carolina Virginia
Indiana Ohio Wyoming
Kansas Oklahoma plus-
Federal 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 (19/20 states)
Connecticut Massachusetts New York
Hawaii Michigan North Dakota
Illinois Minnesota Rhode Island
Iowa Nebraska Vermont
Maine New Jersey West Virginia
Maryland New Mexico Wisconsin
Delaware Washington

plus District of Columbia

[Alaska does not have life without parole]