Life imprisonment is a term used for a particular kind of sentence of imprisonment. The effect of such a sentence varies between jurisdictions.
Life imprisonment is regarded by many as a humane alternative to the death penalty for the most serious crimes.
Interpretation in North America
- In the United States, life imprisonment lasts until the prisoner dies. Sometimes life terms are given in sentences that are longer than how long the prisoner is expected to live on purpose, i.e. a 200-year sentence. In actuality, however, a life sentence does not always mean "imprisonment for life." In many cases one can be paroled out of a life sentence after a decade or more has passed. Even when a sentence specifically denies the possibility of parole, government officials may have the power to grant amnesty or reprieves, or commute a sentence to time served.
Interpretation in Europe
- In the United Kingdom it does not mean, as one might expect, "imprisonment for life", but a prison sentence of indeterminate length. In many cases the Home Secretary sets the "tariff", or length of term, for prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment.
- In Greece, a "life term" lasts for 25-years, and one can apply for parole in 16 years. If sentenced to more than one life term, a person must serve at least 20 years before being eligible for parole. Other sentences will run concurrently, with 25-year terms being the maximum and with parole possible after three-fifths of this term are served.