… and it pretty much does.
The “lock ’em up and throw away the key” crowd are keen on pointing out that life should mean life. Meaning that those sentenced to life imprisonment should be inside for the rest of their lives.
Everyone “knows” that murderers sentenced to life are often freed after 10-25 years or so.
What is less well known is that when someone sentenced to life is released, they are released “on license”, and are definitely not free in the normal sense of the word.
For a start, lifers do not get released until they have convinced the relevant authorities that they are no longer a risk to society (in theory). When you come down to it, there is no point keeping a murderer in prison after 20 years if the circumstances have sufficiently changed that they are no longer likely to murder anyone – that 60-year old woman who went berserk and killed her children when she was 40 isn’t likely to have more children.
Bear in mind that keeping murderers in prison is expensive and the expense of the big TV and playstation a lifer gets in their cell is irrelevant compared with the cost of the bare cell.
Even when lifers are released, they are released on license, and monitored (although I dare say there are not enough resources allocated to monitoring). And if the lifer gets up to anything that makes their monitor feel uncertain, they’ll find themselves back inside without going through court. There have been lifers who have found themselves back inside because they were drinking too much.
So, no a murderer is never truly free.