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List of the Longest Prison Sentences

A list of Longest Prison Sentences


In the US, in 2020, 16% of people admitted to state prisons received a sentence of 10 years or more, while half of the prison admissions were for less than five years. The majority (83%) of those with long sentences were sentenced to 10 to 24.9 years, while the remaining percentage received a sentence of 25 years or more (13%) or life, life without parole, or death sentence (4%). The proportion of people admitted with a long sentence remained stable from 2019 to 2020, but the composition of long sentences changed slightly.

There have been several instances of people who have served what can only be characterised as longest prison sentences, according to the annals of criminal history. One such instance involved Gary Steven Krist, a man with a criminal record, who received a 91-year prison term in the 1970s. Former hitchhiker Krist was accused of murder, robbery, and kidnapping in numerous locations across the US.

Krist’s case serves as a sobering reminder that criminals can be apprehended and punished even if they appear to have a temporary way of life. One of the longest sentences ever given for a single criminal case, his 91-year term acts as a deterrent to those who might be tempted to repeat his actions.

Regardless of one’s personal opinions regarding the length of Krist’s sentence, it is nevertheless a stunning illustration of the ability of the legal system to apprehend even the most evasive of criminals and make sure they pay for their crimes.

The other people on this list with the longest prison terms, like Krist, will serve the majority of their life in prison, making up for the crimes they committed. Justice should serve as a sobering reminder to us all of the value of abiding by the law and the penalties associated with doing so. Whatever your opinion of the sentences, they undoubtedly rank among the heaviest punishments ever imposed by the criminal court system.

Criminal Cases

Though LegaMart itself is here to guide you and advise you over criminal matters if need be, it is still important for everyone to know the basics of the criminal justice system of the country they reside in. This article highlights the longest prison sentences and how they are ordered by the courts, but the structure of the criminal system is important to know before we move toward prison sentences.

Criminal Procedure

When a crime is committed, the first step is to file a formal complaint with the police. If the offence – for which the complaint was lodged in the station – is cognizable, then the person may be arrested (and should appear before a magistrate within 24 hours), but if the offence is not cognizable, then they may be served a summons after the case is initially presented in front of a magistrate. 

After arrest or service of the summons, the case is formally started if the magistrate believes the prosecution has sufficient grounds to be suspicious of the defendant. Initially, the person accused of the crime is known as the “defendant” or “accused” and is “charged” with a crime; the charges are held within a charge sheet, and each crime must be proven to have been committed by the defendant beyond reasonable suspicion before they are held guilty.

The authority representing the victim is called the Crown Prosecution Service. The magistrate presides over less serious cases, but more serious cases are sent to the Crown Court, which decides the cases. Some cases can also be transferred from the Magistrate Court to the Crown Court after conviction if the deserved sentence exceeds the power granted to the Magistrate Court. A conviction is a formal decision holding the accused responsible for a crime.

A magistrate court has one to three judges presiding over a case, but a Crown Court is presided over by one judge; often, there is a jury in the crown court. When a case proceeds to the Crown Court, on the first day, the case may be adjourned if the accused pleads not guilty. After inquiring about the case details and setting the trial date, the court also instructs the prosecution about how to get the case ready for trial; the prosecution has to conform to and fulfil the requirements of the case; otherwise, the case is considered weak, and charges are dropped.

The burden of proof is always on the prosecution to prove the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable suspicion; if there is even a shred of doubt in the eyes of the court that the defendant might be innocent, the defendant is acquitted, and charges are dropped. 


Suppose the defendant has been proven guilty of an offence; the next step is to sentence the defendant. Sentencing can differ from offence to offence and is held according to the discretion of the judge presiding the case concerning the jurisdiction of his powers to sentence. There are two types of punishments that can be given in the sentencing process: one is a fine, and the other is imprisonment; both may also be given.

The Magistrates’ Court can only sentence a convict for a maximum of 12 months, whereas the Crown Court can sentence for a maximum of 5 years, but the Crown Court also has the power to give an extended sentence. Particularly, only the license element of a sentence can be extended. In contrast, the custodial sentence can be served for a maximum of two-thirds of what is awarded before the convict is released on parole.

Types of prison sentencing 

Concurrent and consecutive sentences

When you’re convicted of two or more crimes and sent to prison, typically, you’ll receive a sentence for each offence. It is, therefore, the judge’s or magistrate’s discretion to inform you whether you’ll serve your prison terms concurrently or consecutively.

Concurrent sentences refer to multiple prison terms served simultaneously rather than one after the other. In other words, the sentences overlap and are served simultaneously.

On the other hand, consecutive sentences refer to multiple prison terms that are served one after the other. In other words, the sentences are not served simultaneously but rather back-to-back, with one sentence starting after the previous one ends. A good example of consecutive sentences is the case of; State of Wisconsin v. Darrell E. Brooks Jr.

In November 2021, Darrell Brooks was found guilty of killing six individuals and causing injuries to dozens of others by driving his car through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin. He was sentenced to six consecutive life imprisonments with no chance of parole, in addition to serving 763 years and 3 months consecutively, for the numerous charges against him, including intentional homicide, reckless endangerment, and hit-and-run causing great bodily harm. The judge called Brooks’ actions “a complete and utter disregard for human life” and said he deserved the harshest possible punishment. But instead, the sentence ensures that Brooks will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Life sentence

A life sentence is a type of sentence that can be imposed on someone who has been found guilty of a serious crime. For example, if you are convicted of murder, you will receive a life sentence as mandated by law. In some cases, a court may also impose a life sentence for other grave offences, such as rape or armed robbery.

Generally, a life sentence means that the person will spend the rest of their life in prison, although in some cases, they may be eligible for parole after a certain number of years.

Indeterminate prison sentences

Indeterminate prison sentences refer to a type of sentence where the length of imprisonment is not specified, and the release of the offender is based on their behaviour and progress while incarcerated. The duration of the sentence is determined by a parole board, which periodically evaluates the offender’s conduct and readiness for release. 

Indeterminate sentencing provides incentives for prisoners to engage in rehabilitative programs and demonstrate good behaviour, with the ultimate goal of reducing recidivism rates.

Suspended prison sentences

This type of sentence is where a convicted offender is given a prison term, but the execution of the sentence is postponed for a specified period, during which the offender is placed on probation or given certain conditions to follow, for example, staying away from a specific location and/or performing Community Payback, which involves unpaid work.

These sentences are often used for less serious or first-time offenders to avoid sending them to prison while holding them accountable for their actions.

Determinate prison sentences

Determinate sentences involve a specific duration, encompassing imprisonment and subsequent community supervision (‘on license’). Offenders serve a predefined time and, upon release, follow conditions outlined by the justice system. This approach clarifies the duration of incarceration and the transition to community life.

Understanding these various types of prison sentences is crucial for navigating the legal landscape and comprehending the implications for individuals convicted of different offenses. Each type serves distinct purposes, aiming to balance justice, rehabilitation, and public safety within the judicial system.

Longest Prison Sentences

A conference poster on longest prison sentences

Now that we have covered the procedural and substantive aspects of the law, which covers the sentencing guidelines of the criminal justice system, it is time to proceed toward covering the list of the longest prison sentences awarded in history. This list of the longest prison sentences has been curated after much research and covers cases worldwide. Usually, it is thought that the longest prison sentence is a lifetime, but courts can award more than several lifetimes to convicts to keep them behind bars for the safety of the general public.

Chamoy Thipyaso

Starting at the top, Chamoy Thipyaso is considered the person who has held the longest jail term in history. The convict was held responsible for being involved in a pyramid scheme that defrauded thousands of people, including some members of the Thai Royal Household, but she was lucky since the legislature passed a law that deemed the maximum sentence for fraud at 20 years. The sentence awarded to her was a whopping 141,078 years of imprisonment.

Otman El Gnaoui

This criminal was convicted on counts of terrorism with his accomplice in Spain. He was given a 42,924-year prison sentence by the Spanish Court. Otman committed mass murder in the 2004 Madrid train bombings. His accomplice was also given a 42,922-year sentence for murdering 191 people.

John Straffen

The UK’s longest-serving prisoner was John Straffen. The convict had committed the murders of two pre-teen girls in the mid-1900s. He escaped prison as well, which was the time when he committed another murder of a girl. He was convicted again in 1952 for the third murder, after which he served a life sentence before dying in 2007. Archibald Hall’s record of being the oldest prisoner was broken by John Straffen.

Abdulkadir Masharipov

This Uzbek national was given a sentence equivalent to serving not one but 40 life sentences and an additional whopping 1,368 years for committing the massacre at the Istanbul nightclub shooting. Abdulkadir Masharipov’s sentence is fairly recent and was delivered in 2020. Unlike other prison sentences, Abdulkadir’s crime was sentenced recently in the 21st century and set an example for the people to know that multiple life sentences can still be served. This sentencing was held in Turkey.

Ian Brady and Myra Hindley

Convicted in 1966, Ian Brady was one of the Moors Murderers convicted for the murder of three minors between 1963 and 1965. He then confessed to the murder of two more children in 1986. The convict buried the children in shallow graves, and the body of his victim, Keith Bennett, is still undiscovered. Nonetheless, Ian Brady was considered a danger to society and was exuded from parole, meaning he had to stay in prison till his death. Ian Brady died in May 2017.

Myra Hindley was an accomplice to Ian Brady and was also held guilty of the crimes she committed. It was recommended by her judge that she should serve the whole life tariff. Her sentencing was the subject of a big debate among legal jurists, judges, and Lords, but she continued to serve her sentence till her death in November 2002 at 60.

Why is the longest prison sentence longer than a lifetime?

The main question that comes to mind is why a judge awards a convict more than a lifetime if that is the maximum time they can practically spend in prison. The entire concept behind giving the longest prison sentence is two-fold.

One practical implication is not to let the prisoner be released from prison because, in a normal life sentence, a convict may be released on parole after a few years of imprisonment, but when multiple consecutive sentences are given, it is made sure that the prisoner cannot be released on parole. The other concept is to set an example of exemplary punishment for society to learn from so that potential offenders can mend their ways and be prevented from committing crimes they plan to commit. 

Understanding Death Penalty

Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is a form of punishment sanctioned by the state that involves the execution of an individual who has committed a crime considered a capital offence. Congress and state legislatures can prescribe the death penalty for such offences. Normally, the death penalty is reserved for particularly heinous crimes, such as murder, in the United States.

However, it can also be utilized in cases of treason and grave offences like human trafficking. Current methods of implementing capital punishment include lethal injection, hanging, firing squad, gas chamber and electrocution.

Pro Death Sentence Penalty

Advocates of the death penalty present the following arguments to justify their position:

  • Execution is an appropriate form of retribution for victims of crime.
  • It guarantees the safety of the wider community.
  • Capital punishment is more efficient than imprisonment, as people fear death more than losing their freedom.

Anti-Death Sentence Penalty

Amnesty International maintains that the death penalty contradicts human rights, particularly the right to life and the right to live without torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. These rights are safeguarded by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Those who are against the death penalty advocate for the adoption of instruments that prohibit its use, including:

  • The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aims to abolish the death penalty.
  • Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which concerns the abolition of the death penalty, and Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which calls for the abolition of the death penalty in all situations.
  • The Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Additionally, opponents of the death penalty argue that the effectiveness of punishment in deterring crime does not depend on its severity as much as it depends on the certainty of punishment. Simply put, if punishment is a crime deterrent, then there is no need to opt for harsher punishments.


The list of longest prison sentences serves as a demonstration of the substantial repercussions that result from engaging in criminal activity. The severity of these punishments should act as a deterrent to would-be criminals and as evidence of the commitment of our judicial system to the goals of preserving order and guarding the welfare of our society. It is essential to have a firm grasp of the fact that each instance is distinct and that the individuals who committed the offences in question were punished in accordance with the particulars of those offences.

The duration of these sentences indicates both the seriousness of the offences that were committed and the unwavering dedication of the judicial system to holding individuals accountable for their conduct. These hefty sentences serve as a warning that the law will not tolerate criminal activity and will impose severe consequences on those who choose to break it. The law will not tolerate criminal behavior because it will impose severe repercussions.

LegaMart hopes to cover more topics in the pursuit of providing the general audience with as much information as possible. LegaMart is a legal service for all seeking legal advice. Its legal services are vast and diverse and include, but are not limited to, client conferences, legal FAQs, help, consultations, drafting, etc. It presents to you the list of the longest prison sentences in the world, encompassing the criminal justice systems of various countries.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any alternatives to long prison sentences?

Yes. Several alternatives to long prison sentences exist, such as community service, probation, restitution and electronic monitoring. However, the availability and effectiveness of these alternatives may vary depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the offence.

Do long prison sentences deter crime?

Some studies suggest that longer sentences may not necessarily deter crime and that other factors, such as the likelihood of getting caught, maybe more important. However, the threat of long prison sentences may still have a deterrent effect on some offenders, particularly those who are rational and calculating in their decision-making.

What is the current global trend regarding the death penalty?

According to Amnesty International, as of 2021, 108 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, and 144 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. The number of countries that carry out executions has also decreased, with only a few countries accounting for most executions.

What factors contribute to individuals receiving the longest prison sentences?

The length of prison sentences is typically influenced by the severity of the crimes committed. Serious offenses such as murder, multiple counts of violent crimes, or large-scale fraud can result in lengthy sentences.

Are there legal limitations on the length of prison sentences?

Legal systems often provide maximum sentences for specific offenses, but these can vary by jurisdiction. The imposition of consecutive sentences for multiple convictions can lead to extended prison terms within the bounds of the law.

How does the legal system determine whether sentences should be served concurrently or consecutively?

The decision to serve sentences concurrently or consecutively is at the discretion of judges or magistrates. They consider various factors, including the nature of the crimes, the defendant’s criminal history, and the overall circumstances of the case.

Are there notable cases where individuals received exceptionally long prison sentences?

Yes, there are cases where individuals receive remarkably long prison sentences, often for heinous crimes. One example is the case of Darrell E. Brooks Jr. received six consecutive life imprisonments, totaling 763 years and 3 months, for offenses including intentional homicide.

How do these longest prison sentences impact the legal and criminal justice systems?

Longest prison sentences highlight the severity of certain crimes and serve as deterrents. They also raise discussions about the efficacy of the criminal justice system, rehabilitation, and the balance between punishment and societal protection.

Do these longest prison sentences align with international standards or vary significantly by country?

Sentencing standards vary widely across countries, influenced by legal systems, cultural norms, and legislative frameworks. What constitutes a lengthy sentence in one jurisdiction may differ in another.

How can individuals access information about the longest prison sentences, and are these lists publicly available?

Information about the longest prison sentences may be available through court records, news reports, or legal databases. While specific details may be publicly accessible, the availability of comprehensive lists may vary, and legal privacy considerations can impact the disclosure of such information.

Are there any alternatives to lengthy prison sentences?

Yes. Several alternatives to long prison sentences exist, such as community service, probation, restitution, and electronic monitoring. However, the availability and effectiveness of these alternatives may vary depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the offense.

What is the current global trend regarding the death penalty?

According to Amnesty International, as of 2021, 108 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, and 144 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. The number of countries that carry out executions has also decreased, with only a few countries accounting for most executions.

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