Sunday, June 12, 2011

Life Should Mean Life

For the hard of thinking, I will repeat one of the many problems with the "life should mean life" assertion. I won't dignify it with having the cogency of an "argument".
Not all murders are the same. A nutter who makes waistcoats out of the skin of a dozen prostitutes and a man who - at his wife’s request - injects her with an lethal drug to save her a lingering tortured death by illness are both murder. You can argue that they shouldn't be, but good luck with that.
If anyone is happy sentencing both those cases to literal Life in prison, then they are cognitively challenged. If the idea of literal Life for both those cases makes you uneasy, then drop the simplistic "life should mean life" T-Shirt slogan and grow up. Criminal justice is complicated. Welcome to a real discussion of the complexities.


  1. I think part of the issues is the the shorthand "life sentence" rather than "tariff sentence with life parole" giving the impression that there was at some point a policy decision to move away from life in prison to releasing people, which warps the debate somewhat.

  2. Part of the problem, in my opinion, comes down to the way in which such sentences are reported in the media. I did some digging using the wonderful FOI legislation and discovered the following:

    on 17 November 2010 (the date the latest figures were available for) there were 7,656 life sentence prisoners in HMPS custody. Of these, 2,874 had passed their minimum tariff date. The figures excluded those who had ben recalled to prison followng release on life licence.

    In Scotland, 191 life sentenced prisoners currently being detained in custody beyond the "punishment part" of their sentence. Again, life recalls were excluded from the figures.

    These figures don't make it into the press so large sections of the public believe that the tariff (or punishment part north of the border) is what is served. However, the fact is a significant number of life sentence prisoners remain in custody beyond their tariff.

  3. Your example is of the fallacy a life for a life. Not life should mean life. Those arguing for the latter, from what I've always understood, think a life sentence should mean life imprisonment with no early release, or much smaller minimum sentence etc... these are two completely different concepts.

  4. Ben, what you've posted there is an argument against a mandatory life sentence for all cases of unlawful killing. It isn't an argument against the idea that that life shouldn't mean life.

  5. ...oops I meant to say "It isn't an argument against the idea that that life SHOULD mean life".

  6. I think OP is saying there ought to be degrees of murder ---e.g. first degree and second. With only the former attracting the mandatory life sentence.

    Whether the 'life' bit should mean whole-life always (or ever) is a separate kettle of fish.

    I always rather tend to think that even when the time in prison part is not frighteningly ridiculously long....upon release from prison it must still be a fearful subtraction of liberty to be on life licence until death (and capable of recall for doing not much)

    So(reassuringly perhaps for all the Mail et al readers) 'life' is still pretty oppressive ...even when out after circa 10 years.

  7. Asking a convicted killer if life should mean life, is like asking a turkey to vote for christmas, it doesn't take a genius to work out which way they are going to vote......

  8. Depends when you ask them, I suppose.

    Asking after 30 years inside might be in reality a question about intitutionalisation, degree of.

    Not an easy inquiry!

    It must be sometimes difficult for the very long-termer to contemplate life after release as being 'easy' or even do-able, rather than just plain scary and threatening.

  9. Anon 9:24

    Did you confuse a turkey with a turnkey?

  10. You've dismissed a view point that differs from your own as being ridiculous. Frequent readers of this blog will not find this a surprise.

    The counterargument is this: it is possible to argue that a life sentence should mean lief in prison while simultaneously arguing that murder shouldn't mean a mandatory life sentence.

  11. @Anon 9.07 I believe that was already proposed by the law commission. Unfortunately, the government ignores any proposal that could be seen as letting people get away with it.

    @Ben You mean the current position? There are a small number of people who have life without the possibility of parole, whilst the other "lifers" have a parole possibility.

  12. As an ex con, life DOES mean life, as even if the tarrif is life, with a tarrif of 8 years, it is still life, as you may not get out after 8 years, YOU CAN BE RECALLED AT ANY MOMENT. My partner is a lifer, and if we were ever in a pub say, and there was a fight, that was nothing to do with him, we would have to go. Life i belive is 99 years, so during that time, if some godforsaken probation officer decides you need to be recalled, they can rip your family life apart again.

    It is only people like the Yourkshire ripper and his ilk, that should be in for their whole life term.

  13. @anonymous 4:49:

    That godforsaken probation officer is doing their job. They are following strict guidelines, and any decision, particularly one akin to a lifer recall, is ok'd, scrutinised and double checked by numerous people. As a lifer, your partner can go to pubs, and contrary to what you say, won't be recalled. Probation staff and police aren't stupid, it's more than their jobs worth to do something like that!! There would be discussion in supervision regarding stuff like that, ensuring that the offender is taking responsibility for staying out of risk areas, away from triggers to anger/violence/offending, but a stable lifer would not be recalled for entering a rough pub!! If, however he had been involved in the fight, committed an offence in the process, and alcohol/pub violence was linked to the original offence, then yeah, recall would be considered.
    And rightly so!!
    You'd expect a prolific burglar yo be recalled if they returned to heavy heroin use, a domestic violence perpetrator to be recalled if they behaved violently at home. It all about risk management, and surely you can see that certain events indicate risk, and it's better to remove the risk (offender) BEFORE they hurt someone else.

    But I totally agree with you that life DOES mean life, just not always behind a prison gate. Surveillance, supervision an rehabilitation continue long after release.

    Plus we can't afford to keep all lifers in prison for life, unless anyone's willing play double income tax, why not stop moaning about wanting more punishment 'an eye for an eye', and look at how we can avoid having to recall people at all. Ensure the custody and community elements of any sentence work well enough to lower recidivism as much as possible!!

    Which is pretty much what us godforsaken probation officers spend most of our time doing...when were not recalling lifers for dropping litter that is!!!!

    Sorry, that ended up as a reply to most of the above posters, as well as my personal view on 'life should mean life'. Will jump off my soap box now!!


  14. "It all about risk management, and surely you can see that certain events indicate risk, and it's better to remove the risk (offender) BEFORE they hurt someone else."

    When does this cross over to prejudice though? Harrassement even? Personality clashes, where the one with power and authority misuses it?

    Anyone can hurt another at anytime, rather than spend so much time and money on psychology profiling, red tape and forms, why not put it into community projects such as art, theatre or dance for example, giving people somewhere to go and something enjoyable to do, alleviating the boredom of unemployment, drugs and crime?

    On the question of prevention and risk, why is it if you report a death threat to the police they wait seventy two hours no less before taking any action? So much for public protection.

    The whole system is cock-eyed

  15. "When does this cross over to prejudice though? Harrassement even? Personality clashes, where the one with power and authority misuses it?"

    Anyone on life license and 'suspected' of breaking its terms should be afforded the opportunity of defending themselves in front of a lay panel before being returned to jail because of the reasons above.

  16. Let's face it Anon @9.27pm, current methods to prevent re-offending don't work, so why not try something radically different. Not for people who pose a serious risk to others, but certainly for people who are prolific offenders due to drug/alcohol issues. Boredom plays a huge part in it - criminal record = no job = boredom = hopelessness = drugs = theft = back to jail, before the whole cycle starts again.

    The trouble is that people only seem to be able to think of working within the current criminal justice framework as it exists. Is it beyond the powers of humanity to come up with better solutions concerning certain crimes? Can we not invest in more preventative measures e.g. family support, and yes, therapeutic activities as Sophie suggests, instead of paying good money to keep sending vulnerable and hurting people back to jail? Mad not to try, in my opinion.

  17. Over on JHL's blog, he wrote a post called "Is Women's justice sex discrimination?', where a recent report was cited called 'Reforming women's justice', it said: "The focus should be on health, housing and treatment for drug addiction to reduce reoffending,", and as was quite rightly pointed out in the comments, this applies equally to both sexes.

    Also, "Better national provision of women-focused community disposals could result in more successful completion of community orders, lower rates of reoffending and fewer women being sent to prison." Again, something equally applicable to men. (Thanks to Mr Cowling and JHL for these).

    So, the term 'community disposals' can mean a variety of schemes in the community that enterprising people might wish to dream up, and does, according to this report reduce recidivism, or re-offending rates, and its not really difficult to see how this can be the case either.

    So, anonymous 9.27, whilst too scared to put a name to your comments here and so quick to point the finger and cry 'insanity' to proposals you disagree with, you are simply showing yourself up as ignorant and small minded.

  18. Sophie. You are right I am sorry. What sort of dance would be best to stop people offending do you think? Ballet? Breakdancing? Irish Dancing? or Disco?


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