“Life Means Life” Prison Sentences Receive the Go-Ahead in England and Wales

By Christopher Zoukis

The British government scored a popular victory against the European Court of Human Rights last month, when the British Court of Appeals ruled “whole-life” prison sentences legal.

The legality of such sentences, intended for the most heinous murders, has been in dispute since July 2013, when the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights decided, in the Vinter case, that “whole-life” sentences without hope or possibility of release, contravene Article 3 of the convention, which prohibits “inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The sentencing of a number of convicted murders has been on hold ever since, pending review by the British Court of Appeal, including those of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebwale, who were found guilty of brutally murdering British soldier Lee Rigby on a South London street in May 2013.

On February 18, 2014, the Court of Appeal rejected the European Court of Human Rights’ decision, arguing that Section 30 of the Crimes (Sentences) Act of 1997 allows a life-sentence prisoner to appeal to the Home Secretary, under exceptional circumstances, for release on compassionate grounds, thus providing the hope or possibility of release required by the Court of Human Rights, and confirming the legality of “whole-life” sentences.

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Prison Education Programs Cut Following Recession

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy

A recent study — “How Effective Is Correctional Education, and Where Do We Go from Here” — from the RAND Corporation has shown that following the recession, prison education programs were cut to make up for budgetary shortfalls.  Specifically, between 2009 and 2012, educational programming was reduced by 6 percent on average, with larger states slashing prison education funding by 10 percent and smaller states doing the same by 20 percent.  This flies in the face of recent research which shows prison education to result in a 13 percent reduction in recidivism rates.  According to Lois Davis, RAND senior policy researcher, “There are now fewer teachers, fewer course offerings and fewer students enrolled in academic education programs.”

To make the point even more clear, the RAND study also asserted that for every $1 spent on correctional education, $5 is saved on incarceration costs.  According to RAND’s Davis, “The debate is no longer about whether or not correctional education is effective or whether it’s cost effective.”  This is because correctional education has been proven to be both beyond any doubt.  The Urban Institute’s Jesse Jannetta agreed, telling Time Magazine, “Investing in things like prison education is a way to not just have people reoffend, but have them be successful wage earners and go back and make the biggest possible contribution to their communities.”

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