LWOP: Life without parole

The North Carolina Black Alliance and our partner Emancipate NC have piloted a program that builds a process that’s embedded with racial justice and racial equity. It’s important that eligible persons receive a fair opportunity during the review process.  Emancipate NC with its years of dismantling structural racism and mass incarceration across North Carolina is the perfect partner to ensure such a fair review process.

Horrors of Caging Humans

The prison system is inhumane and barbaric under any circumstances, but most people dehumanized by prison will eventually be released from the cage they are held in by the State of North Carolina. Imagine being the one in a cage, knowing the only way you will leave is in a pine box. If reading that sentence made a little bit of your soul die, imagine what it does to a person facing the reality that they will never escape that cage. The indefinitely  condemned person has been sentenced by the state to LWOP, which stands for “Life Without Parole.” Second only to the death penalty, this is the worst sentence a person can get. The implications are undeniable – there is NOTHING redeemable, salvageable, of value that this person has to offer the world. One person should never be able to make this designation about another fellow human being. For a brief moment in North Carolina history, state legislators recognized this and tried to correct it. Offering hope and an opportunity for redemption to people sentenced to LWOP.

In 1993, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Structured Sentencing Act, which applies to all criminal offenses committed in North Carolina after October 1, 1994. A little-known section of the original Structured Sentencing Act entitled any person sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) to a judicial review of his or her sentence after 25 years of imprisonment. Unfortunately, this law was repealed in 1998, so it does not apply to crimes committed after December 1, 1998.

Do You Have a Loved One Eligible for Judicial Review?

Currently, there are 225 people eligible for judicial review. You may have a loved one who may be eligible if they were convicted of first-degree murders committed between October 1, 1994, and December 1, 1998. Until now, there has been no process to avail those who are serving life without parole and who are eligible for review. Until now, the process for merely obtaining this review was unknown. Also, those eligible for review have no right to counsel or a hearing. The majority of these individuals are African American or Black and Brown people.

The Process

A judge will review prison records,  the opinion of any members of the victim’s immediate family, the incarcerated person’s health, the degree of risk the person poses to society, and any other information the judge deems appropriate.

The judge conducting the review has no authority to change or terminate the LWOP sentence but is instead charged with offering a recommendation to the Parole Commission. The decision of what to recommend is at the judge’s discretion. The judge can reach one of two conclusions:

Conclusion #1

Judge does not recommend any change to the sentence.

Conclusion #2

Judge recommends that the person become eligible for parole.

This recommendation would then be passed on to the Parole Commission, which would decide whether to adopt it and make the person eligible for parole. By way of delegated authority, the Parole Commission may modify the person’s sentence to make it parole-eligible. In the event that the Parole Commission does not modify the LWOP sentence, the incarcerated person is allowed access to the review process every two years.  

North Carolina Black Alliance (NCBA)
P.O. Box 27886 | Raleigh, NC 27611
info@ncblackalliance.org | 919-891-9788

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