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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.

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Presentation on theme: "Life sentence in Finland and other Nordic Countries Vital and fatal questions Tallinn 16.10 2008 Ulla Mohell Counsellor of Legislation Ministry of Justice."— Presentation transcript:

1 Life sentence in Finland and other Nordic Countries Vital and fatal questions Tallinn Ulla Mohell Counsellor of Legislation Ministry of Justice Finland

2 Life sentence in Finland and other Nordic Countries 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 lifesentenced and other long-term prisoners Rec (2003)22 on conditional release Prison Rules (2006)2

3 Life sentence in Finland New legislation on enforcement of imprisonment and remand imprisonment Came into force New provisions on conditional release Life sentenced prisoners are also entitled to conditional release based on a court decision Before , 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 CPT

4 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


6 Length of unconditional imprisonment In Finland 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

7 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

8 Life sentence in Finland The number of life sentenced prisoners has increased during the last two decades : 148 life sentenced prisoners (4,2 % of prison population) Life sentenced prisoners are not segregated from other prisoners 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 leaves

9 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 RELEASE PLAN

10 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

11 Conditional release in Finland Conditional release is a customary measure Benefits to all prisoners without exceptions Postponement of a conditional release occurs very seldom Main rules first-timers after having served ½ 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

12 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

13 Life sentence in Finland in practice There are 148 life-time prisoners in Finland (4,2 %) Since , 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

14 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 pardon Before the reform came into force ( ) the average time served by life sentenced prisoners was years

15 Life sentence in Sweden New legislation came into force 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: Prisoners risk to commit new crime Prisoners own efforts to integrate into society Length of the sentence already served As of there are 154 life-time prisoners in Sweden (2,9 %) Up until , 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

16 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 released : 17 life-time prisoners (0,8 %)

17 Situation in Norway No life sentence in Norway Fíxed-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 years 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

18 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

19 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

20 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

21 Prison Rules (2006) Rule 33: All prisoners shall have the benefit of arrangements designed to assist them in returning to society

22 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 sentence 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

23 Thank you for your attention!

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