How Long is Life? Comparing the Processes of Release for Life-Imprisoned Offenders in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden

  • Doris Schartmueller


In Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, offenders sentenced to life can be released conditionally from prison. Once they have served a legally specified minimum term behind bars, a court decides whether they qualify for release. Through comparative legal research, interviews with criminal justice professionals, and a questionnaire administered to those involved in the decision-making process, this study compares and contrasts how the release process functions in these three countries. Particular attention is paid to the nature of decision makers, the criteria they use to grant or deny release, and the amount of discretion they have in the release decision. The findings suggest that the release process exemplifies the traditionally strong role that judges have played in penal decision making in Scandinavia. The amount of discretion appears to be strongest in Finland and weakest in Sweden, where judges have increasingly been challenged to balance retributive against reintegrative goals of punishment in the release decision.


Life sentences Prison release Discretion Denmark Finland Sweden 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political Science and Criminal JusticeCalifornia State University, ChicoChicoUSA

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