Should Life mean Life? And at what age? Rape, Armed Robbery, Paedophilia … Convicted criminals of the most heinous acts in humanity. These criminals get the book thrown at them and, in most cases, the harshest of sentence handed down.
However, when a court passes a Life Sentence, what do they actually mean?
In the UK, since the removal of Capital Punishment, most criminals convicted of murder receive a life sentence that includes a “Whole Life Order”. This means that the individual can never be considered for release from incarceration.
A Whole Life Order, or Whole Life Tariff, was introduced to the UK judiciary system in 1983. From that time the order could be handed down by government members, however, after an appeal in 2002, only a judge can impose the sentence.
Since its introduction, only 100 offenders have been sentenced to Whole Life Orders and in a number of those cases the sentence has been reduced on review or appeal.
Furthermore, a number of high-profile killers were never given a Whole Life Sentence and only being given a Life Sentence. So what is the difference?
In addition to the aforementioned issues with a Whole Life Sentence, the term “Life Sentence” itself, for non-murder related crimes, is not only misleading but does not even come close to being true to what the potential sentence actually is.
When sentencing a criminal in the UK judiciary system, a judge must specify the tariff, or Minimum Term, and this is the time that the convicted MUST spend in jail prior to being considered for parole.
A “Life Sentence” is one that will never be fulfilled, even if the convict is released on parole. Ultimately, anyone who is convicted of life will forever be on licence and can return to prison if they are considered to become a danger to the public.
Currently a “Life Sentence” carries a term spend in jail of approximately 14-20 years prior to the opportunity for parole.
Therefore, while the term “Life Sentence” is technically true, even if it very rarely means a life spent in prison.
When asked in an online survey, conducted by debate.org, 81% of the respondents in the UK expressed that Life should indeed mean the entire remaining span of someone’s life being spent in jail, whereas only 19% disagreed, expressing that the current system means that the tax payer is not funding the life of a criminal, who could be effectively monitored in the public domain.
There are further issues with the idea of Life meaning Life in jail. At what age should Life mean Life?
From a legal perspective, adults are fully accountable for their actions at varying ages dependent on the act. Currently, a “Whole Life Order” can only be issued at the age of 21. Whereas a Life Sentence can be handed down from the age of 11 upwards.
This extreme dichotomy causes problems, not just from public perception, but aso from a growth and development position.
An adolescent only become fully cognisant and therefore, entirely able to understand and process the results of their actions after the age of 19, and this can vary by individual. As such, an age 21-years-old for a Whole Life Order make clear and rationale sense that is back by life development science.
However, when we consider the idea of a “Life Sentence”, things become much more difficult to define. The issue with the age of 18 as an identifier for responsible adult behaviour is tricky because there is no-specific scientific rationale for that age to be set as it is in the UK system.
The identified ages for big developmental steps of 13, 16 and 18 are cultural inherent within the UK system but were not developed along ideas that have scientific merit, therefore, how do you decide the appropriate age for the enabling of a “Life Sentence”?
Without a full and informed review of the current situation it would be impossible to tell what is most appropriate which is the reason there are so many layers of debate and differing opinions on the subject.
Fundamentally, LIFE MEANS LIFE, just not as most of us would assume.
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