Life in Prison Versus Death Penalty

Officials in the state of Georgia say the option of life without parole has become an alternative to the death penalty. Their reasoning is the number of defendants sentenced to die has dropped over the past 10 years.

Life without parole law was passed in the 1990s, and officials here say they haven't had a lot of experience with the option, but say depending on the crime, life without parole is a good.

State prison records show the number of Georgia defendants sentenced to die has dropped from 10 a year to four or fewer. That since the state's life without parole law went into effect in the 1990s.

Jim Hardy, Chief Assistant District Attorney for the Southern Judicial District says the statistics may be coincidental.

"Each case is specific to it's own facts you must consider all the facts in each case and you must also consider the view points of the victims families in these cases," says James Hardy.

David Miller, who is the District Attorney for the Southern Judicial Circuit, was unable to comment on camera but says life without parole serves as a middle ground for giving justice to a victim’s family, and he's not surprised there are more life without parole sentences.

"It's not unusual for jurors to reach a compromise with the life without parole sentence. The decision between life and death is a hard thing to vote on. Jurors have to decide whether or not to take the life of another human being and that's difficult no matter what the crime.

Georgia officials say life without parole is in essence a death sentence. Hardy says in no way can it take the place of a death sentence, but it does give jurors another consideration in their decision to prosecute.

David Miller says the death penalty process can be drawn out, which may be another reason why life without parole is favored by a victim’s family.

David Miller says defendants who get life without parole are not guaranteed to spend the rest of their life in prison. He says the board of pardons does have the authority to parole after the age of 60, so there's still a possibility of parole.