At a Glance
Oral argument was held in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on April 13, 2022.
Scott v. PA Board of Probation and Parole is a lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania on behalf of six individuals serving mandatory sentences of Death By Incarceration (DBI), also known as life without the possibility of parole in the criminal legal system, for “felony murder,” or crimes in which they did not take or did not intend to take a life. Building off of years of organizing and advocacy by activists, organizers, and lawyers at the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC), Amistad Law Project (ALP), and the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI), this lawsuit challenges Pennsylvania’s mandatory sentencing scheme as unconstitutional and cruel punishment. By seeking to demonstrate the gross disproportionality of Death-By-Incarceration sentences in relation to defendants who do not kill or do not intend to kill, and the failure of such sentences to serve any legitimate interest in the criminal legal system, this case aims to have Pennsylvania’s this mandatory sentencing scheme struck down and the opportunity for the six individuals in the case, who have collectively served 199 years in prison, to be reviewed for parole and released to their families and communities.
Rooted in principles of redemption and liberation, the complaint outlines both legal and policy rationales that explain the inherent irrationality, injustice, and inhumanity of Pennsylvania’s carceral system—a mirror of our system of mass incarceration across the country. From describing stark and unconscionable racial disparities—70 percent of people serving Death-By-Incarceration sentences are Black—to describing the unique vulnerabilities of and challenges faced by an aging population of incarcerated people, and situating Pennsylvania as an outlier both nationally and globally on imposing DBI sentences, the complaint challenges the notion that prolonged incarceration, even for “violent” crimes, is acceptable and serves legitimate public interests. By highlighting the stories of the six individual plaintiffs, this case also calls on Pennsylvania’s criminal legal system to recognize the inherent humanity and redemptive power of people, irrespective of past conduct, and demands individualized assessments of the plaintiffs, who have undergone remarkable transformations despite the challenges and violence of incarceration and their pre-incarceration backgrounds.
This filing is part of ongoing abolitionist efforts by our partners in Pennsylvania, as well as national efforts to release individuals from all forms of incarceration. Countries around the world have long recognized that prolonged and mass incarceration serves no legitimate public purpose and is inherently cruel and dehumanizing. Though this case seeks the opportunity of parole consideration for individuals serving DBI sentences for crimes wherein they did not intend to or did not take a life, it is situated and based in broader goals of ending mass incarceration and represents one step toward realizing those goals.
To learn more about imprisonment and decarceration in Pennsylvania please see Abolitionist Law Center's report, A Way Out: Abolishing Death by Incarceration in Pennsylvania and Amistad Law Project's report, Pandemic in PA's Prisons.