Life prisoner can get away with another crime without punishment
The Criminal Sanctions Agency (Rise) has discovered a legal loophole under which, in certain cases, a prisoner given a life sentence who is just about to be released from jail can get away with another crime without any punishment whatsoever.
The Agency has reported to the Ministry of Justice on the loophole in the legislation as a consequence of the new Act on Imprisonment in 2006.
Since October 2006, decisions on the release of life prisoners have been made mainly by the Helsinki Court of Appeal instead of the President of the Republic.
The loophole is related to a situation in which a prisoner commits another crime after the Court of Appeal has decided to release him or her from jail and is convicted of a new offence before the actual date of release.
The time between the release decision and the actual date of release might be as long as 18 months maximum. In the course of that time prisoners can also commit many kinds of crime outside the prison while on furlough.
According to Rise, in such a case a sentence resulting from the new crime is included in the life sentence, for which the Court of Appeal has already given a date of release.
As the Court of Appeal has no way of calling off its decision to release the prisoner, he or she will get away with the new offence without any punishment whatsoever.
However, Rise is not aware of any case in which a prisoner would have escaped a punishment.
"Typically a life prisoner is released before a final verdict on the new crime, in which case he or she will be sentenced as normal", notes Matti Vartia, the Legal Officer of the Criminal Sanctions Agency (Rise).
In Rise's opinion, the Act on Imprisonment should be amended so that the Court of Appeal could cancel its decision to release a life prisoner who has committed a new crime. Rise has submitted a written proposal to that effect to the Ministry of Justice this autumn.
The proposed amendment would also remove another new loophole from the Act on Imprisonment.
A year ago, a so-called supervised trial release was adopted in Finland in order to assist prisoners in starting a normal life outside prison. A prisoner is eligible for a supervised trial release six months before the official date of release.
Rise finds it contradictory that the Court of Appeal cannot call off its release decision, if a life prisoner commits a new crime after the release decision but before the beginning of the supervised trial release.
However, the Court of Appeal can cancel its decision on the release from jail if a prisoner commits a crime during the trial release.
The Criminal Sanctions Agency