Life Without Parole (LWOP) in California Women’s Prisons

General Facts

  • LWOP was added to CA penal code in 1976 and went into effect in 1978. As of March 2017, nearly 5,000 people are serving LWOP in CA, including almost 200 women and transgender people in Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) and California Institution for Women (CIW).
  • 19 states have eliminated LWOP from their penal code; 20 states have abolished the Death Penalty.
  • California has begun changing its laws regarding Juvenile LWOP, including passing Senate Bill 9 in 2012. However, the majority of the LWOP population is ineligible for this law (only youth under the age of 18 at the time of their crime are eligible) and we must end LWOP altogether.
  • California spends approximately $138,000 per year on each prisoner over the age of 55 in the women’s prisons

Who is Serving LWOP?

  • The majority of people serving LWOP in the women’s prisons are survivors of abuse including intimate partner battering, childhood abuse, sexual violence and trafficking.
  • 90% of people in women’s prisons with LWOP were sentenced under the Felony-Murder Rule, a legal doctrine in which prosecutors can broaden the scope of who can be charged with murder to include those who didn’t participate in the murder and/or had little involvement with the felony.
  • 90% of the LWOP community were sentenced as aiders and abettors. They were not the main actor in the crime and/or were forced to be present when their abuser committed a murder.
  • The majority of people sentenced to LWOP in women’s prisons are first-time “offenders,” and had no record prior to being sentenced to die in prison.

Institutional Discrimination Against LWOP

  • LWOP is considered a “humane alternative” to the Death Penalty, however, those sentenced to LWOP do not have access to free legal counsel for appeals as do people on California Death Row have.
  • The CDCR dismisses rehabilitation for LWOP prisoners because they will never be returning home. They are barred from the majority of self-help programs, yet ironically they are relied upon to stabilize the prison population and facilitate the majority of the peer-led support groups.
  • LWOP prisoners have fewer job options in prison. They are only eligible for jobs that pay the lowest hourly amount, currently $0.08/hour. Yet they still are required to pay restitution. If they cannot pay, the burden falls on their families to do so.

Denied Opportunities for Release

  • In 1993, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) eliminated the requirement of the Board of Parole Hearings to review an LWOP prisoner after 30 years in prison. This requirement was removed from the DOM without informing the LWOP community.
  • Once someone serving an LWOP sentence has exhausted all of their appeals, the only opportunity for potential release is to be found suitable for commutation of sentence by the Governor. Governor Brown has never commuted an LWOP sentence.  He has only commuted the sentences of 2 people already serving parole-eligible life sentences, resulting in a decrease of their sentences.
  • LWOPs are ineligible for Elder Parole and Compassionate Release despite the fact that they are aging and ill.