Some of the above-mentioned countries have come to recognise the need to prepare lifesentenced prisoners for release. These countries, as well as those which abolished the death penalty
much earlier, have established judicial, quasi-judicial, administrative or executive measures for
considering the release of life-sentenced prisoners on an individual basis. Regimes have been
developed to address the individual behaviour of the prisoners, offering them education and work.
Further, contacts with the outside world, especially with families where possible, have been fostered
and outside public and charitable agencies have become involved with them as they progress
through their sentence. All this serves both to preserve their “humanity” during the sentence and to
prepare them for release. Managing life-sentenced prisoners presents challenges to prison
administrations to maintain a positive atmosphere, particularly in the first decade of a life sentence
but also as some of these prisoners move into old age. The experience of these states provides a
good source of knowledge in proposing techniques to maintain respect for the rights of prisoners
facing indeterminate sentences, even though the indeterminacy on its own, no matter how long it
may last, creates particular psychological pressures for the prisoner.
The CPT’s findings during visits
The CPT has visited a large number of prison establishments across Europe in which lifesentenced prisoners were accommodated. The conditions under which such prisoners were being
held varied significantly from one establishment to another. In many countries, life-sentenced
prisoners were usually held together with other sentenced prisoners and benefited from the same
rights in terms of regime (work, education and recreational activities) and contact with the outside
world as other sentenced prisoners.
However, in a number of countries – including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia,
Latvia, Moldova, Romania, the Russian Federation, Turkey (prisoners sentenced to aggravated life
imprisonment only) and Ukraine5 – life-sentenced prisoners were as a rule kept separate from other
sentenced prisoners. In several countries, the CPT observed that life-sentenced prisoners were also
subjected to a very impoverished regime and draconian security measures. By way of example, lifesentenced prisoners were locked up in their cells (alone or in pairs) for 23 hours per day, were not
allowed to associate even with life-sentenced prisoners from other cells (including during outdoor
exercise), were not allowed to work outside their cell or were not offered any purposeful activities
at all. Further, in several countries, life-sentenced prisoners were systematically handcuffed and/or
strip-searched whenever they left their cells. In some establishments, the prisoners concerned were
additionally escorted by two officers and a guard dog during any movement outside their cell.
Moreover, in a number of establishments visited, prisoners were subjected to anachronistic
rules, the sole aim of which was to further punish and humiliate the prisoners concerned (e.g.
prohibition to lie down on the bed during the day, obligation to recite the relevant article of the
criminal code under which they had been convicted, each time an officer opened the cell door,
obligation to wear a prison uniform of a distinct colour, etc.). In the CPT’s view, such practices
clearly have a dehumanising humiliating effect and are unacceptable.
It is also noteworthy that, in some countries, the entitlements of life-sentenced prisoners to
contacts with the outside world (in particular as regards visits) were extremely limited and
significantly lower than those of other sentenced prisoners.
In some countries (e.g. the Czech Republic, Lithuania and the Slovak Republic), life-sentenced prisoners must
serve a certain period (between 10 and 15 years) in a separate unit before they may be transferred to an ordinary
detention unit where they can associate with other sentenced prisoners.