How Long is a Life Sentence – What is Life Imprisonment?
Violent criminals oftentimes get life imprisonment sentences or be given the life sentence. But what exactly is this?
Well, a life sentence generally means that a person goes to jail for the whole duration of their remaining life. There is a popular saying in the United States in regards to the life sentence called “25 to life”. This means that, in the United States, inmates that are given life imprisonment will spend upwards of 25 years in jail.
But the law is different in other countries. In some, the sentence is much harsher. So, because of that, we decided to explain the life sentence in the United States, in the UK, Canada, Australia, and South Africa.
Life Imprisonment in the United States
For greater context, we are going to explain life imprisonment in the United States by taking a look at a couple of states such as Georgia, Texas, Florida, California, Ohio, and Michigan.
In Georgia, there are two types of life sentences. There is “Life Without Parole” and with the possibility of parole.
In the case of the former, the minimum mandatory life imprisonment without parole is 25 years. This is only in the case of first-time offenders. For second-time offenders, there is no minimum of 25 years of serving; you get life without the possibility of parole.
The United States believes that life without the possibility of parole (“Seven Deadly Sins”) is extremely harsh even by US standards.
For the state of Texas, there is also LWOP and parole. In Texas, life without parole is given to capital murder cases and repeated sexual abuse. LWOP ensures that the death penalty isn’t given to people. As of now, around 900 inmates are serving LWOP in Texan jails.
In the case of life with parole, an inmate may have the chance of parole after serving 40 years.
Same as Texas, Florida gives LWOP to offenders of capital murder and repeat sexual abuse. But, things weren’t the same up to 1984. Since then, a person convicted of non-capital felonies cannot be given LWOP.
Inmates charged with life imprisonment with parole can ask for one after serving at least 25 years of the sentence. It is estimated that only 1% of Floridians have been granted parole.
Like any other US state, life without parole means that Californians charged with it will die in jail. To be charged with one, a person has to commit first-degree murder per Penal Code 187, felony-murder, and rape.
If a person is charged with life imprisonment with the chance of parole, then the person can challenge the state after serving 25 to 30 years of jail time.
The state of Ohio charges to murder and aggravated murder with either the death penalty or LWOP. The minimum sentence is 15 years, of which the inmate will spend the rest of their life in jail.
In the case of life with the possibility of parole, the inmate has to serve 20 years before being eligible for parole. Like in any other US state, the official Parole Authority doesn’t have to give the parole if they don’t want to.
The state of Michigan gives life without the possibility of parole to offenders of First-Degree murder or placing explosives with personal injuries resulting.
LWOP means the person will spend the rest of their life in jail.
Life with the possibility of parole is given to anyone that doesn’t serve First-Degree murder or placing explosives with personal injuries. Convicted inmates can be paroled after serving 15 years of their sentence.
Life Imprisonment in the UK
In the UK, life imprisonment lasts until the death of the inmate. However, in many cases, prisoners are given what is called “Early Release”. This is the equivalent of parole in the United States.
Life imprisonment is given to offenders of murder. The court may also give life to those convicted of rape and armed robbery.
Early release can be considered after a prisoner has served 15 to 20 years. However, if given parole, the prisoner is effectively on parole for the remainder of their life. This means that any wrongdoing and the prisoner is back to serve the remainder of their life sentence.
Life Imprisonment in Canada
In Canada, murder can be either a first or second degree. Both in both cases, prisoners are given life imprisonment. However, unlike the United States, an inmate can ask for parole depending on which type of murder they’re convicted of.
In the case of First-Degree murder, then the prisoner is eligible for parole after serving out 25 years of their sentence. In the case of Second-Degree murder, the prisoner is eligible after serving at least 10 years and no more than 25 years.
Life Imprisonment in Australia
Unlike the United States, where the death penalty is considered to be the harshest sentence, life imprisonment is given to serious criminal offenses such as murder, sexual assault, manufacturing and trafficking illicit drugs, and others.
However, much like the US, Australia also has different variations of life imprisonment across its different territories.
As of now, mandatory life imprisonment is abolished in Victoria, Tasmania, and West Australia. In territories such as South Australia, Queensland, and the Northern Territories, life imprisonment is mandatory.
This sentence is also given to aircraft hijackers.
Parole also works differently across various jurisdictions. Life given for murder in the Capital Territories has a non-parole period of 10 years. The non-parole period if 15 years in Western Australia.
South Australia, Queensland, and Northern Territories have it much stricter. There, the minimum period a prisoner has to serve the sentence is 20 years. In some territories, the murder of a police officer as well as multiple murder charges increase the parole to 30 years. In Victoria, the minimum parole hearing is after serving 30 years.
Life Imprisonment in South Africa
In South Africa, life is given to violent offends such as premeditated murder, gang rape, serial rape, rape when the rapist is HIV positive, or rape when the victim is underage. It isn’t unheard of for robberies and hijackings such as aircraft hijackings to be given life imprisonment.
For parole hearings, the minimum length a prisoner has to serve in case of murder is 25 years. In the case of rape, the sentence is 15 years, while 10 years in the case of robberies and hijackings. Unlike some other countries on this list, a parole hearing is always granted to prisoners after serving minimum sentence length in South Africa.
Life imprisonment varies across countries. But one thing is certain, murder and sexual offenders will always be given life imprisonment. Depending on the severity of the crime and the country, the prisoner may or may not be allowed parole.