Sharp rise in number of prisoners serving life terms

Average time served by ‘lifers’ remains more than twice as long as 30 to 40 years ago


The number of prisoners serving life sentences has increased sharply and they are spending far longer in jail than in the past, a new study has shown.

The average term served by “lifers” released in the 1970s and 1980s was only 7½ years. However, since then it has increased markedly.

The life-sentence prisoners released in 2002 served an average of 11 years, but the figure for those freed in 2012 was 22 years. The average time served dropped to 17½ years for those released in 2013, but it remained more than twice as long as 30 to 40 years ago.

Prison population

The research by NUI Galway law lecturer Dr Diarmuid Griffin effectively dismisses the perception sometimes expressed by politicians and others that prisoners sentenced to life are often released after a relatively short period of time.

The study also highlights the increase in the number of prisoners serving life terms. The rise from 139 in 2001 to 319 by the end of 2013 represented a 130 per cent increase at a time when the general prison population rose by only 34 per cent.

The rise in the number of life sentences reflects the increasingly violent nature of crime, especially among organised criminals, as well as the success of the Garda in bringing criminals before the courts.

The research was undertaken by Dr Griffin for a PhD study entitled, The release and recall of life sentence prisoners: Discretion, informality and politics.