A life sentence lasts for life. However, as is the case in a number of countries, not all of the sentence is generally served in prison custody. The granting of temporary or early release to life-sentenced prisoners is a feature of prison systems internationally and in Ireland.
The Minister, in deciding on the release of a life sentence of a life sentenced prisoner, will always consider the advice and recommendations of the Parole Board. The Board, at present, initially reviews prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment after seven years have been served.
Prisoners serving very long sentences, including life sentences, are normally reviewed on a number of occasions over a number of years before any substantial concessions would be recommended by the Board. The final decision as to whether a life sentenced prisoner is released rests solely with the Minister.
The length of time spent in custody by offenders serving life sentences can vary substantially. Even when released, these offenders may remain subject to supervision indefinitely. This supervision is carried out on behalf of the Department by the Probation Service. Conditions always apply when an offender is granted temporary release. In all such cases there is the condition that the person released must be of good behaviour and sober habits. Other conditions may be applied as considered appropriate by the Minister, such as a prohibition on living and working in certain areas. If the offender misbehaves or comes to the attention of the authorities for any breach of temporary release conditions, he/she may be arrested without warrant and taken back into custody without the need for fresh proceedings and may be held in custody thereafter at the discretion of the Minister.