In various states, the legislature differently considers the time required to serve a criminal sentence of life imprisonment. In some countries, life sentences are assigned the minimum amount of time that they need to serve in prison as punishment. Currently, in the criminal legislation of foreign countries there are many legal norms that help correct and return to healthy society convicts serving life imprisonment, as well as giving real hope for release from places of deprivation of liberty. Today, there is a need for a detailed analysis of the experience of sentencing to life imprisonment and parole from it, and amending the criminal law in relation to convicts serving this type of punishment.
In some countries, the imposition of life imprisonment sentences does not mean that the convict will spend the rest of his or her life in prison. Thus, in the United Kingdom, a differentiated and individualized approach to life imprisonment is widely used. Moreover, they proceed from the nature of the committed act and the personality characteristics of the accused, which determine the approximate term of life imprisonment. Of particular note is the work on the socio-psychological study of a person sentenced to life imprisonment, which is carried out individually with each convict at the first stage of serving his or her sentence. In England, the Crime Act 1997 enshrines the fundamental principles that the court must be guided by when sentencing to life imprisonment (Schartmueller, 2015). Thus, the Law stipulates that when deciding on the punishment of life imprisonment, the court is obliged to consider all circumstances in any way related to the case. According to Art. 2 of the Law, the court has the opportunity to appoint life imprisonment to a person who, at the time of the commission of the crime, is 21 years old or older (Schartmueller, 2014). The court’s refusal to appoint life imprisonment should be justified in open court.
It should be noted that the purpose of a mandatory life sentence for a murder is not only the prevention of crimes and intimidation of criminals, but also social justice. In addition, the latter idea includes the protection of citizens from such criminals. It is directly related to human rights preservation, which includes safety for peaceful and law-abiding citizens. Murder is a serious crime, although the motives of the criminals and the circumstances of the commission of the act may be different. Undoubtedly, there are fundamental differences between the deprivation of life of a seriously ill person, which is committed out of mercy by his or her family or close relative, and the deprivation of life out of mercenary motives. However, at the same time the criminal law of England does not establish the difference in the purpose of punishment in the event of an intentional murder.
Life imprisonment is the main punishment in England, which can be assigned for murder and is applied by court decision as the maximum for a number of serious crimes. Each of the sentenced to life imprisonment is assigned an officer and probation officer (Turner, Hemmens, & Matz, 2016). The life-sentenced person regularly contacts the staff of the institution where he or she is serving his or her sentence. The possibility of release of the convict depends on the likelihood of him or her committing a second violent crime after the minimum term of serving the sentence. This probability is assessed by the degree of risk, that is, the danger of the crime, the nature and personality of the offender, family circumstances, attitude to supervision and others. In the United States, a person convicted of a felony must be sentenced to life imprisonment if he or she has previously been adjudicated by a U.S. court or state court. The conditions of adjudications are two or more serious crimes, or one or more serious drug-related crimes.
The death penalty is the most severe form of criminal punishment. Remaining as such, the death penalty is considered the most problematic criminal law institution, characterized not only by a complex socio-legal nature, but also by an ambiguous attitude towards it on the part of society. The latter includes various public institutions expressing the interests of multifaceted social strata and structures, as well as state legal institutions in particular and the state as a whole (Zschirnt & Randol, 2014). An ambiguous public and state-legal opinion regarding the death penalty exists in some countries.
Today, permissions or restrictions on the use of the death penalty provided for by the national legislation of each state, regional, continental or international community of countries. However, by virtue of the state legal and territorial structure that has developed in a given country, the death penalty as a criminal law institution has the specificity inherent in the given country (Worthen, Rodgers, & Sharp, 2014). This specificity mainly follows from the state legal structure, as well as the principle of the formation and exercise of power.
This approach to building a legal system and hierarchy of power is directly enshrined in the country’s Constitution. In this case, the legislative bodies of the federation and the states are independent both in the development of their own criminal laws, and in determining the types of criminal punishment. They are independent in establishing or abolishing the death penalty as the supreme measure of criminal punishment. They consider determining the type, method, procedure for executing the death penalty and in pardoning a person sentenced to this type of punishment (Ye, Sharag-Eldin, Spitzberg, & Wu, 2018). Despite such autonomy and independence, in the United States of America, as a rule, only one category of crimes is punishable by death – intentional murder under aggravating circumstances.
Reviewability of Sentences
The main reason for narrowing the practice of parole is a significant deterioration in the number of people serving sentences in correctional and educational colonies. Each convicted prisoner must have a chance for a review in order to eliminate the criminal justice system’s errors. However, it is impossible to discount the changes in the criminal and penal legislation. The parole of minors, or rather, persons who have committed a crime at a minor age, should be considered separately. Moreover, these changes were aimed mainly at narrowing the possibility of applying parole. Such novelties, as a rule, were not previously discussed in the circles of specialists and by the public, and, in fact, they only showed the society the next stage in intensifying the struggle. As a result, it can be argued that parole, as one of the most significant institutions of criminal law, has lost its consistency (Blasko, Friedmann, Rhodes, & Taxman, 2015). The return to the quality of system should be carried out in line with the entire reform of the criminal and executive law.
The problem of a socially justified, and with this a fair solution to the criminal punishment of persons who have committed an encroachment on life should be approached from the other side. It is necessary to pay attention to the legal problem posed by the abolition of the death penalty and the introduction of life imprisonment in the criminal punishment system (Chamberlain, Gricius, Wallace, Borjas, & Ware, 2018). Suddenly, in the criminal legal respect, especially serious crimes turned out to be equalized in assessing the gravity of the deed. The given crimes are that encroach on life and other especially serious crimes, but not encroaching on life, but committed against public health and public morality, public safety and sexual inviolability. Currently, an exceptional measure of punishment is not imposed and an alternative to it is life imprisonment.
The principle of justice must be built on the notion of factoring in the possibility of mistake, where the innocent is sent to jail. It is considered expedient to discuss the issue of introducing into the general part of a legal norm establishing a new type of exceptional criminal punishment in the form of life imprisonment. It is conducted without the right to parole for committing particularly serious crimes that encroach on the life of two or more persons. In addition, it can be imposed for encroachment a life committed by a person who has a criminal record for an attempt on life (Clough, 2016). The legislator did not raise the issue of gradation of life imprisonment for two subspecies – with the right to parole and without such a right. The exclusivity as a form of criminal punishment of the death penalty and life imprisonment without the right to parole consists in the fact that the punished person is permanently removed from society. This is the fundamental difference between life imprisonment without the right to parole from life imprisonment with the provision of such a right.
Improving the mechanism of exemption from life imprisonment can be carried out in several ways. Firstly, along the path of improving legal regulation and law enforcement practice of applying existing legal instruments. Secondly, along the way of developing a new mechanism for the release from life imprisonment. The first option involves amending the rules for applying the institution of parole (Liebling, 2017). First of all, the following legal uncertainty, which raises a number of problematic issues in the application of conditional release from punishment, needs to be eliminated. It is important that the court decide when considering the request of the convicted person about his or her place of permanent residence after being released from prison. However, the considerations must include the length of the sentence and the conditions of detention provided for by the penal legislation. This is due not only to the goals of the post-prison adaptation of convicts, but also due to the monitoring of the supervised person. However, as it was indicated above, convicts mainly lose their ties with relatives and close relatives during the first ten years (Vidal, Oudekerk, Reppucci, & Woolard, 2015). Also, convicts who have ownership rights to residential premises at the place of residence before the conviction lose them either on their own initiative or due to other legal circumstances.
In the case of conditional early release from serving life imprisonment, the court cannot establish administrative supervision due to the legal nature of this legal institution. A person released on parole is not considered to have served the sentence until the end of the probationary period. In such circumstances, administrative supervision begins to be carried out after a person has served a sentence not related to deprivation of liberty, or after the expiration of the term for fulfilling duties related to parole (Liem & Richardson, 2014). From this provision it follows that for a period of probation, a parole is dropped out of the jurisdiction of administrative supervision as a mechanism for preventing the commission of new crimes. The second option to improve the mechanism of exemption from life imprisonment is to use other criminal law and penal institutions.
The progressive nature of the execution of punishment is seen in the steadiness of changing the conditions of serving a sentence within a single type institution. The next step is the possibility of transferring from one type of institution to another type of institution, depending on the behaviour of the convict and his or her attitude to the main means of correction (Clough, 2016). The final phase of the progressive system of the execution of imprisonment is early release from punishment or its replacement with a milder type of punishment.
In conclusion, in relation to life imprisonment, a fairer mechanism for the execution of punishment is the consistent application of the institution of replacing the unserved part of the sentence with a milder type of punishment. The latter should precede the consideration of the application for parole from serving the sentence, which does not fully achieve purposes of criminal punishment. Thus, the legal analysis indicates the existence of a sufficient list of criteria for assessing the identity of convicts serving a sentence of life imprisonment. Along with this, the improvement of the mechanism of early release from serving life imprisonment is seen in a more complete application of the elements of a progressive system of execution of sentences. This will require making the necessary changes to the norms of criminal and penal legislation.
Blasko, B. L., Friedmann, P. D., Rhodes, A. G., & Taxman, F. S. (2015). The parolee–parole officer relationship as a mediator of criminal justice outcomes. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 42(7), 722-740.
Chamberlain, A. W., Gricius, M., Wallace, D. M., Borjas, D., & Ware, V. M. (2018). Parolee–parole officer rapport: Does it impact recidivism? International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 62(11), 3581-3602.
Clough, A. (2016). Honour killings, partial defences and the exclusionary conduct model. The Journal of Criminal Law, 80(3), 177-187.
Liebling, A. (2017). The meaning of ending life in prison. Journal of Correctional Health Care, 23(1), 20-31.
Liem, M., & Richardson, N. J. (2014). The role of transformation narratives in desistance among released lifers. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 41(6), 692-712.
Schartmueller, D. (2014). Too dangerous to get out? The use of individualized release mechanisms for lifetime incarcerated offenders in Sweden. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 25(4), 407-431.
Schartmueller, D. (2015). Settling down behind bars: The extensive use of life sentences in Alabama. The Prison Journal, 95(4), 449-471.
Turner, J. R., Hemmens, C., & Matz, A. K. (2016). Is it reasonable? A legal review of warrantless searches of probationers and parolees. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 27(7), 684-701.
Vidal, S., Oudekerk, B. A., Reppucci, N. D., & Woolard, J. (2015). Examining the link between perceptions of relationship quality with parole officers and recidivism among female youth parolees. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 13(1), 60-76.
Worthen, M. G. F., Rodgers, F. R., & Sharp, S. F. (2014). Expanding the spectrum of attitudes toward the death penalty: How nondichotomous response options affect our understandings of death penalty attitudes. Criminal Justice Review, 39(2), 160-181.
Ye, X., Sharag-Eldin, A., Spitzberg, B., & Wu, L. (2018). Analyzing public opinions on death penalty abolishment. Chinese Sociological Dialogue, 3(1), 53-75.
Zschirnt, S., & Randol, B. M. (2014). Institutionalizing the culture of control: Modeling the changing dynamics of U.S. Supreme Court death penalty decisions. International Criminal Justice Review, 24(4), 319-344.