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How Long is a Life Sentence?

A life sentence in prison is a serious punishment for a serious crime. Typically, a life sentence is a prison term that lasts for the accused’s entire lifetime. The only other punishment more severe than life in prison is the death penalty. That being said, a defendant may be able to receive a sentence that will allow him or her to be released at some point. On the other hand, an accused may be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, which would prohibit him or her from being released at all. He or she would eventually die in prison.

Life Sentencing Across the Nation

According to the Scholars Strategy Network, an organization that seeks to improve public policy by connecting scholars and their research to policy makers, citizen associations, and the media,  there is a trend toward an increase in life imprisonment in the United States. Despite the closure of some prisons across 17 states in 2011 and 2012 and a decrease over the past 20 years in serious violent crimes in the U.S., the number of prisoners serving life sentences in America is rising. Nationwide 47%—nearly half—of life-sentenced inmates are African-Americans. In some states, the African-American population of lifers is about 70%. Within the federal prison system, 62% of the life-sentenced population is African-American. Non-whites account for up to two-thirds of the total population serving life in prison.

Types of Crimes that can Result in Life Sentencing

There are several crimes for which an accused could receive a life sentence, with or without parole. These include:

  • Murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder;

  • Terrorism, espionage, treason, high treason, airplane hijacking, piracy;

  • Genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, certain war crimes;

  • Severe child abuse, human trafficking, kidnapping;

  • Drug trafficking, drug possession, drug dealing;

  • Severe cases of fraud, financial crimes;

  • Burglary or robbery which results in death or grievous bodily harm;

  • Any three felonies, in the case of the three strikes law.

Mass Incarceration by the Numbers

In 2013, the incarceration rate for the United States was the highest on the planet, at 716 per 100,000 of the national population. Recent news reports show that the United States now imprisons 698 out of every 100,000 people - a slight reduction from its peak in 2013. While America represents less than 4.5% of the world’s population, it accounts for and houses 22% of the world’s prisoners. Statistically speaking, the average amount of time life sentence prisoners served was approximately 22 years in custody, according to 2016 data of inmates who were released that year. The state of Nevada incarcerates at a higher rate than the national average. In 2012, Nevada had 491 prisoners who were serving life sentences without parole. Only 23 jurisdictions in the nation allow for a life sentence without parole for non-violent offenses. Nevada is one of only eight jurisdictions that allows a life sentence without parole for first-time non-violent offenders.

Nevada Attorneys

If you or someone you know has any questions about this topic, contact the knowledgeable Nevada attorneys at Parry & Pfau today.

(image courtesy of Javier Villaraco)