Life Imprisonment: How Long Is Enough?

Posted on January 7, 2010 in Society

Life imprisonment is less harsh as compared to death sentence. Death sentence is considered as a capital punishment. The courts have not exactly defined how long a sentence for life should be given.

Life imprisonment doesn’t mean that it is a punishment for life rather it is a punishment for a specific long period of time in India. In countries where death penalty is abolished, life imprisonment is the maximum punishment for the heinous crimes committed. In most jurisdictions life imprisonment can be excused when the criminal serves and behaves well during his stay in the jail.

However in a country like India as death penalty is practiced, life imprisonment is considered a lesser form of harsh punishment and regarded as less retributive and more reformative.

International human rights law allows the imposition of life sentences only in the most serious crimes. In USA, life imprisonments can be more than a 100 years long, ensuring that the convict stays in jail for the rest of his life.

Death penalty in India is given in the ‘rarest of rare’ cases. There was and issue related to abolishing death sentence in India as it went against the statutory laws of the country. In light of the unwillingness of accepting the issue of abolishing death sentence the study of counting the limit of life imprisonment becomes quite interesting. Life imprisonment without the possibility of release, leads to indefinite detention in prison.

Thus this causes physical, emotional and psychological imbalance. Prisoners may suffer from ill-health, social isolation, loss of responsibility, identity crisis etc. In the worst cases they may even be driven to commit suicide.

Adding to the above situation the conditions of the prisoners in the jail are very unhygienic. Prisons are left down to die; they are not at all taken care of. Some jail authorities follow the old Prisoner’s Act and torture the prisoners in an unhuman manner for example whipping, isolation, electric shocks etc.

The prisoners are not provided with enough medical facilities which add to the misery. Thus in such a situation life imprisonment without release or parole is unhealthy and undesirable.

The Supreme Court explained that life imprisonment is a punishment where the convict spends the rest of his natural life in prison. Moreover it could be only excused by special permission by the president, governor and the executive.

However, if life imprisonment is given in place of death sentence it extends up to 14 years and not less than that. After spending a period of 20 years in a jail the lifer has the right to file a case for remission.

The general public view on life imprisonment shows that many have supported it. In their view, these kinds of punishments are given to only those who commit heinous crimes. It should be a lesson to the wrong-doer of the society.

But as humanity exists he should be given a minimum time of imprisonment if the lifer’s behavior changes to a responsible citizen. The lifers shouldn’t be ill-treated whih makesthem forget their own dignity.

But there are some crimes which cannot be excused nd where life-long imprisonment seems small. Thus life sentence should be a punishment for the convicts according to the type of crime they have done.

But again, how long is enough? If someone commits a shocking and disturbing crime, he serve 5, 6 or may be 14 years. But then there are people who spend more than 20 years for petty crimes like theft.

When we talk about this in open, the judiciary seems to run away. If they cannot answer these questions then who will?

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The writer is a Delhi based correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz


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