This whole mess is actually over something quite simple, so here we go:
Life means life.
Now let's be clear about this, I'm not talking about changing sentences, I'm not talking about increasing sentences, and I'm not talking about how awful our legal system is or isn't or anything like that. All I'm asking for is for criminals to get given a sentence, and then actually serve it.
Simple eh? Don't call it life it is isn't going to be life. And if that means that we give murderers ten years not life, that's ok, because at least they get what they're given. If that means that we then have to decide whether we're ok with the idea of giving murderers only ten years in jail, that's fine, but let's get to that bridge later, right?
What we really don't need is someone getting life, but being told they might be out in five years. Probably won't, but might. It doesn't send a clear message at all - even though they may never leave prison, everyone else thinks they'll be out in five. That doesn't help, it really doesn't.
Whether or not our legal system is a complete mess or not, is absolutely not the issue here. The issue is as simple as saying one thing when we mean another. Get that sorted first, and a very large problem is solved overnight. Thing is, once this mess is out of the way, you can get to the heart of the sentencing debate and start to look at the really important issues like mandatory minimum sentences and what we should really be doing with dangerous repeat offenders.
It's only a small step, but boy, what a necessary one.