Opinions on Life imprisonment

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"Life Sentence" redirects here. For the music recording by Epicure, see Life Sentence (EP).
"Life term" redirects here. For lifelong terms of office, see Life tenure.

Life imprisonment (also known as a life sentence, lifelong incarceration or life incarceration) is any sentence of imprisonment for a serious crime under which the convicted person is to remain in prison for the rest of his or her life or until paroled. Crimes for which a person could receive this sentence include murder, attempted murder, severe child abuse, rape, espionage, high treason, drug dealing, vandalism, human trafficking, severe cases of fraud, aggravated criminal damage in English law and aggravated cases of arson, burglary or robbery resulting in death or grievous bodily harm.

Life imprisonment can, in certain cases, also be imposed for transportation offences causing death, as a maximum term. Some American states and Canada allow judges to impose life imprisonment for such offences.

This sentence does not exist in all countries. Portugal was the first country in the world to abolish life imprisonment by the prison reforms of Sampaio e Melo in 1884. However, where life imprisonment is a possible sentence, there may also be formal mechanisms to request parole after a certain period of imprisonment. This means that a convict could be entitled to spend the rest of the sentence (until he or she dies) outside prison. Early release is usually conditional depending on past and future conduct, possibly with certain restrictions or obligations. In contrast, when a fixed term of imprisonment has ended, the convict is free.

The length of time and the modalities surrounding parole vary greatly for each jurisdiction. In some places, convicts are entitled to apply for parole relatively early, in others, only after several decades. However, the time until being entitled to apply for parole does not necessarily tell anything about the actual date of parole being granted. Article 110 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) stipulates that for the gravest forms of crimes (such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide), a prisoner ought to serve two-thirds of a fixed sentence, or 25 years in the case of a life sentence. The highest determined prison sentence that can be imposed in the ICC, aside from life imprisonment, is 30 years (article 77 1) a)). After this period, the court will review the sentence to determine whether or not it should be reduced.

The US has the world's largest population behind bars and leads in life sentences as well, at a rate of 50 people per 100,000 residents imprisoned for life. Some technically finite sentences are handed out, especially in the United States that exceed a century and thus are seen as being symbolic life sentences, since without indefinite life extension nobody would ever be able to live long enough to serve those sentences. Courts in South Africa have handed out at least two sentences that have exceeded a century (to Moses Sithole and Eugene de Kock) and were thus symbolic life sentences.

Unlike other areas of criminal law, sentences handed to minors do not differ from those given to legal adults. A few countries worldwide allow for minors to be given lifetime sentences that have no provision for eventual release. Countries that allow life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juveniles include Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina (only juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18, as those under the age of 16 cannot be held accountable for their actions and cannot be tried), Australia, Belize, Brunei, Cuba, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, and the United States. Of these, only the United States currently has minors serving such sentences. As of 2009, Human Rights Watch had calculated that there were 2,589 youth offenders serving life without parole in the United States.

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