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Life sentence in Finland and other Nordic Countries

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Life sentence
in Finland and other Nordic Countries
Vital and fatal questions
Tallinn 16.10 2008
Ulla Mohell
Counsellor of Legislation
Ministry of Justice
Life sentence in Finland and other Nordic
1. Life sentence in Finland
Some basic information
Life sentenced prisoners
Treatment and conditional release
2. Current situation inin other Nordic Countries
3. Council of Europe recommendations
Rec (2003)23 on the management of life sentenced and other
long-term prisoners
Rec (2003)22 on conditional release
Prison Rules (2006)2
Life sentence in Finland
New legislation on enforcement of imprisonment and
remand imprisonment
Came into force 1.10.2006
New provisions on conditional release
Life sentenced prisoners are also entitled to conditional release
based on a court decision
Before 1.10.2006, possible only by pardon granted by the
President of Finland
New structure with 5 regional prisons
New legislation is based on Human Rights conventions
and recommendations given by the UN, the CoE and the
Some basic principles in the new legislation
The content of imprisonment shall (only) be the loss of
liberty. All restrictions on prisoners’ rights shall be based
on legislation
Living conditions in prisons shall be as close as possible
to the regular circumstances and ways of life or society
(work, living conditions; the normalisation principle)
Any negative effects resulting from the loss of liberty shall
be prevented (visits, contacts with the outside world)
Prisoners retain all their fundamental rights; these rights
can only be restricted by an act and in accordance with the
international human rights conventions
Prisoners shall be treated justly and with respect for their
human dignity
Average of prisoners 1998-2008 (until 1.9.2008)
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Length of unconditional imprisonment In
minimum 14 days
maximum 12 years
in case of concurrent sentences (many
sentences) the maximum is 15 years
in case of consecutive sentences the
maximum is 20 years
life sentence
sentenced only in case of murder or some other
aggravated crime
Length of fixed-term prison sentence
in Finland
Average length of unconditional prison
sentence in Finland: 14.1 months
Average length in prison before
conditional release: 8.2 months
Life sentence in Finland
The number of life sentenced prisoners has increased
during the last two decades
1.10.2008: 148 life sentenced prisoners (4,2 % of prison
Life sentenced prisoners are not segregated from other
Life sentenced prisoners are entitled to take part in all
activities in prison
Entitled to be placed in open prison on same conditions as
fixed term prisoners (also outside the prison)
Entitled to prison leaves (normally after 8 years are served)
Entitled to escorted leaves once a year if not normal prison
Sentence plan
(including release plan)
Conditional release
Probationary freedom under supervision
Permission for prison leaves
Placement and replacement in prison
Work and other activities in prison
Life sentence in Finland
Sentence planning is extremely important in case of life
sentenced prisoners
Sentence planning includes allocation, activities, prison
leaves, and the date of first possible conditional release
Sentence plan of life sentence prisoners covers the whole
prison term and the parole period (conditional release)
The aim is to increase the predictability of imprisonment
The idea of progressive system is of utmost importance
By following the sentence plan a prisoner will gain certain
benefits/incentives: transfer to a more open environment,
prison leaves, allocation to an institution outside prison,
and earlier release
Conditional release in Finland
Conditional release is a customary measure
Benefits to all prisoners without exceptions
Postponement of a conditional release occurs very
Main rules
first-timers after having served ВЅ of the sentence
recidivists after having served 2/3 of the sentence
if the offence is committed under the age of 21, after
having served 1/3 (1/2) of the sentence
some few prisoners (dangerous recidivists) after 5/6
Life sentenced prisoners
May be released after having served 12 years
if the offence has been committed under the age of 21 after
having served 10 years
The following is taken into account
the nature and number of the offence/s
how the prisoner has followed the sentence plan
his/her behavior in prison
possible later criminality
Decision is made by the Helsinki Court of Appeal
Before a prisoner is conditionally released he/she may be
ordered to probationary liberty under supervision
If a prisoner is not released, it is possible to apply again
after one year
Life sentence in Finland in practice
There are 148 life-time prisoners in Finland (4,2 %)
Since 1.10.2006, the Helsinki Court of Appeal has
made a total of 9 rulings in favour of conditional
release for a life-sentenced prisoner
4 have been released from prison
4 prisoners are in probationary liberty under
supervision (or still in prison)
In one case conditional release has been cancelled
Probationary time is the remaining sentence,
however, no more than three years
Life sentence in Finland
The average time in prison has been 13,5-14 years
(only a few cases so far !!)
The President of Finland has the right to give
Before the reform came into force (1.10.2006) the
average time served by life sentenced prisoners
was 14-15 years
Life sentence in Sweden
New legislation came into force 1.11.2006
Life sentence can be converted to a fixed-term sentence
The maximum is 18 years, which is the maximum fixed-term sentence
It is possible to make an application to the court after having served 10
years of the life sentence
The court takes into consideration, for example, the following:
Prisoner’s risk to commit new crime
Prisoner’s own efforts to integrate into society
Length of the sentence already served
As of 12.9.2008 there are 154 life-time prisoners in Sweden (2,9 %)
Up until 19.8.2008, 54 have made an application for a fixed-term
sentence, 30 of which have been accepted
A prisoner is eligible for conditional release after having
served 2/3 of the sentence
Life sentence in Denmark
New legislation came into force 2005
Life-time prisoners can be released after 12 years
Decision is made by the Minister of Justice
2007: 2 life-time prisoners were conditionally
21.12.2007: 17 life-time prisoners (0,8 %)
Situation in Norway
No life sentence in Norway
FГ­xed-term sentence, the maximum is 21 years
Main rule: conditional release after 2/3 is served
A prisoner with a 21 years’ sentence is released after 14
Decision is made by the Prison Service
In addition, the so-called ”forvaring”-system where the
court gives the maximum (21 years) and the minimum time
for the sentence; in case of a new offence the court may
decide that the prisoner shall be in prison until there is no
more risk for a new crime
Decision made by the Prison Service and the prosecutor
together, or the court
Recommendation Rec (2003)23
on the management by prison administrations of life
sentenced and other long-term prisoners
Long-term imprisonment is 5 years or more
Very important recommendation!
General principles:
Individualisation principle – long-term prisoners should be
treated as individuals
Normalisation principle – conditions in prison should as far as
possible be similar to living conditions in society
Non-segregation principle – not to segregate “lifers” solely
because of the length of their sentence
Progression principle – progression towards more open
conditions and more responsibility of the prisoners
Recommendation Rec (2003)23
Includes, among others, issues concerning:
Individual sentence planning
Risk and needs assessment
Security and safety in prison
Counteracting the damaging effects of life and
long-term sentences
Special groups of long term prisoners
Reintegration into society
Recommendation on conditional release
Rec (2003)22
Rule 4 a:
“In order to reduce harmful effects of
imprisonment and to promote the
resettlement of prisoners into society (…)
the law should make conditional release
available to all sentenced prisoners
including life sentenced prisoners”
Prison Rules (2006)
Rule 33:
All prisoners shall have the benefit of
arrangements designed to assist them in
returning to society
Vital questions on life sentence
A life sentenced prisoner should
be treated as an individual
not be segregated solely on the grounds of the length of the
have the benefits of progressive system during a prison sentence
have right to know the first possible date of conditional release
be given a possibility to change
have contact with close relatives and friends
have all possible support in resettlement into society after the
prison sentence
Thank you for your attention!
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