There were 1,670 prison inmates serving life terms at the end of 2007 after topping 1,000 in 1999 and jumping to more than 1,500 in 2006, according to statistics compiled by the Justice Ministry.
The number has been rising due to an increase in the number of life sentences issued and a decline in the number of people released on parole, reflecting the recent tendency of courts to impose strict punishment and growing public hostility to paroling inmates.
Statistics since 1998 indicate that life sentences were finalized for 45 to 75 people per year until 2002. The figure increased to 114 to 136 from 2003 to 2006, while it dipped to 89 last year.
Eleven to 18 convicts were released on parole per year until 2001 and in 2003 and 2005, while only four people were granted parole in 2004 and 2006, and three in 2007.
Parole is granted by eight regional rehabilitation panels after a request is filed by a prison warden.
The panels consider the sentiments of victims and whether society would be willing to accommodate a potential parolee, in addition to the risk of repeat offenses and the inmate’s eagerness for rehabilitation.
Those released on parole last year spent an average of 31 years and 10 months in prison, up from 25 years and 10 months in 2004, according to the data. As of April 1 this year, 24 people had spent at least 40 years behind bars, according to the ministry.