Irreducible Life Sentences and Human Dignity: Some Neglected and Difficult Issues
There is an emerging consensus that life sentences that offer offenders no realistic prospect of release, regardless of how many years they have served and how much they have done to reshape their lives, are contrary to human dignity. In this article, the central arguments that the courts and scholars have employed to produce this consensus are critically examined. Chief among them are the arguments that such sentences are inherently inhuman and degrading and deprive offenders of the hope of ever being released. I contend that these and other arguments in opposition to irreducible life sentences suffer from a variety of defects that render them less than fully convincing. I then sketch what I believe is a more convincing argument against irreducible life sentences, though I concede that fully substantiating it will require more work.