Why prisoners are released early? A simple guide to Life Sentence

The Meaning of the Life Sentence

We often hear that an offender has received a life sentence for a particular crime. However, there is public outrage when it turns out that the offender has only ended up serving several years in the prison before being released. But does life ever mean life?

What crimes carry a life sentence?

A conviction for the crime of murder carries a mandatory life sentence.

Other offences such as rape or armed robbery carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. This means that a judge can impose this sentence if he chooses to.

These discretionary life sentences can be issued when the judge believes that an offender is particularly dangerous or has committed a second serious offence.

Types of life sentences

Minimum term life sentence– when passing a life sentence, the judge will state the ‘minimum term’: the amount of time the offender has to serve before being considered for release.

Even upon release, the life sentence is still in effect and the offender can be recalled to prison at any time if they are deemed to be a danger to the public.

Whole life term– this is when there is no minimum term set by the judge and the offender will not be considered for release. Whole life terms are rare. A 2017 survey revealed that only approximately 60 offenders were serving this kind of life sentence, including high-profile serial killers.

Whole life terms can only be given to offenders aged 21 and over.

Life Sentence Legislation

The law regarding life sentences can be found in the Criminal Justice Act 2003.


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