Top 10 Longest Prison Sentences in the World

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Going to prison is something that strikes fear into the heart of most of us. The thought of being incarcerated, our freedom taken away, for even a few months, is enough to keep most of us on the straight and narrow.

However, for one reason or another, be it insanity or anger, greed or negligence, every once in a while, some of us fall foul of the law.

Fortunately, in most countries, the punishment fits the crime, and a petty theft, for example, will not result in a long prison sentence, or, if it’s a first offence, in any sentence at all, while a serious crime, like rape, murder or fraud, may result in longer terms, or even life imprisonment.

Justice varies from country to country, and even within the states or territories of that country and where a crime in one country may result in a more lenient sentence, there are some countries that have a zero tolerance policy, and deliver swift and final sentences, even including execution, for what we would consider a lesser offence.

In the middle east, for example, crimes such as rape, murder and stealing, have penalties that might include castration, death or having a hand cut off, in that order. In Thailand, dealing or transporting narcotics results in lengthy prison terms in very unpleasant jails, or even death, while in many other countries, penalties are more lenient, focusing on rehabilitation rather than retribution.

There have, however, been numerous cases of record breaking jail sentences being handed down, and this article focuses on the top ten. As the saying goes, crime does not pay, and since the criminals listed here had no chance of parole within their lifetimes, or, indeed, for many lifetimes thereafter in some cases, that saying is proved true.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that not all life sentences are created equal. In some countries, life in prison means twenty years, with an opportunity for parole after ten years. In others, like China, life imprisonment means imprisonment until death.

One question that always comes up when discussing inordinately long sentences, is why not just sentence these criminals to death. The answer to that, is that the cost of sentencing someone to death, and the subsequent appeals that opens up, is actually higher to the taxpaying public than keeping them incarcerated for so long is therefore less costly, and an effective method of keeping dangerous criminals off the street.

In cases where sentences numbering thousands of years, or multiple consecutive life sentences, are handed down, the idea is that even if the criminal becomes eligible for parole at sometime, that eligibility would occur well after their natural lives had been spent in prison, and therefore, amounts to a sentence for the rest of their natural lives.

It’s also interesting to note that sentencing, in the United States, for the rest of your natural life, can no longer be appealed – the only way to rescind that type of sentence, is to be pardoned by the president.

Whether for specific crimes, or just for being record breaking sentences, here is our list of the top ten prison sentences.

10. Longest Sentence to a Woman

In the country of New Zealand, life imprisonment is the harshest sentence the courts can hand down, and usually, women are treated more leniently than their male counterparts.

However, in the case of Tracy Goodman, the judge decided that her crime warranted the maximum penalty, the first time that sentence had been given to a woman. Not only that, but the sentence carries a 19 year non parole period. Given that Goodman is 44 years old already, that would put her well into her sixties before she even becomes eligible for parole.

Given the nature of her crime however, stabbing and eighty three year old pensioner, Mona Morriss, to death, before robbing her apartment, one can only hope that even then, she does not receive parole.

9. Longest Serving Political Prisoner

Political prisoners are typically those individuals that defy the government of their home country, or another, for political reasons. Nelson Mandela was a famous political prisoner, serving twenty seven years in South Africa, for his involvement in the ANC.

However, in May this year, Nael Barghouthi, a Palestinian national, will become the longest serving political prisoner ever. Beginning his incarceration on April 4, 1978, Barghouthi has now served more than thirty one years in an Israeli prison. Since he was incarcerated when he was twenty one, he has spent ten years more as a prisoner, than as a free man, and since his prison term is undefined, he has no way of knowing when, if ever, he will be released.

While one can understand the need to protect a country’s political stability, one has to wonder, given the exact nature of the political tensions between Palestine and Israel, whether Bargouthi will ever be released, and whether his incarceration is indeed justified.

8. Longest Time Served

In 1899, Richard Honeck, who murdered Walter F Koeller, was sentenced to life in prison. Unlike modern life terms, that tend to last for twenty five years or less, Honeck spent very close to his entire life in prison.

At the time of his arrest, Honeck, the son of a wealthy farm equipment dealer, working as a telegraph operator, was just 22 years old. He and an accomplice, Herman Hundhausen, had entered Koeller’s room armed with knives, guns and other weapons, and eventually stabbed the man to death with a bowie knife.

Initially, he was remanded to Joliet prison, although he picked up trouble there too, stabbing an assistant warden. His stay in the Menard Penitentiary, Chester, lasted until to December 20, 1963, when Honeck, then 84, was finally paroled, and was uneventful.

He spent the final thirty five years of his sentence peacefully, working in the prison bakery, and during his entire stay, he received one four line note, in 1904, and two visits – one from a friend, also in 1904, and one from a reporter, in the same year as his parole. Seems fitting, considering his crime.

However, his niece took him in following his parole, and the two lived in Oregon, until his death, reported to have been in 1976, when he was aged ninety seven.

7. Burmese Activists Receive Inhuman Sentences

In the nation of Burma, the military government reign supreme. Any who oppose them are treated with single minded brutality. For instance, one 21 year old activist, Bo Min Yu Ko, has been sentenced to 104 years in prison for opposing their views.

The government’s indiscriminate sentencing of opposition to their will does not end there though – they have also sentenced a Kay Ti Aung, to twenty years in prison. She was five months pregnant at the time of the sentencing.

While these sentences don’t come close to matching the top sentences in this article, they are significant because they have been handed out not for crimes, but for opposing reigning political views.

6. Longest Sentences In Georgia

In August of 2006, the longest sentences in the state of Georgia’s history were handed down by Judge Debra Turner, of the Gwinnet County Superior Court.

What makes these sentences all the more interesting is that the two recipients, who have each received seven consecutive life sentences, plus two hundred and sixty five years each, had not committed murder or rape.

Instead, the two, twenty eight year old Ryan Brandt, and twenty five year old Jeffrey Kollie, were convicted of a string of armed robberies. Ironically, they had previously fired an attorney who had arranged a plea bargain of forty years for them.

It would seem that even officials within the justice system are getting tired of crime, and given the high number of people either incarcerated, or on parole or probation, have decided to make an example of those who break the law.

5. Twenty Five Life Sentences

On the fifth of February 1973, in the state of California, a sentence of twenty five consecutive life sentences was handed down to Mexican American, Juan Corona.

The sentence definitely fit the crime, as Corona had been found guilty of murdering twenty five migrant farm workers, who had worked for him. After murdering them, he had buried their remains near Feather River, outside Yuba City, also in California.

Considering that he had taken twenty five lives, in an astonishingly short period between 1970 and 1971, it was fitting that he was sentenced to one life term for each of the lives he had stolen. If only he was able to live long enough to serve them all.

4. Over Two Millennia, For Starters!

Darron Bennalford Anderson, of Oklahoma, was found guilty in 1994, of crimes ranging from rape, to kidnapping, larceny, robbery and kidnapping. His initial sentence was two thousand two hundred years.

Unhappy with the sentence, he chose to appeal the ruling, and when his appeal was decided. However, instead of the result he had hoped for, a reduction in his sentence, he received further sentences, including four thousand years each for sodomy and rape, five hundred years for grand larceny, and one thousand seven hundred and fifty years, and a thousand years respectively for kidnapping and burglary.

In 1997, he once again appealed this sentence, and this time, had some success. The supreme court of appeals ruled that the larceny conviction was double jeopardy, considering that he had been sentenced already for burglary.

Currently, Mr. Anderson is eligible for parole in the year twelve thousand, seven hundred and forty four.

3. Don’t Mess With Iranians

Most people know that in the Middle East, justice is swift, and decisive. None but the very brave, or ignorant, would attempt to commit a serious crime, like rape or murder in an Arab governed country, for fear of death.

However, it turns out that eve n being a conman in Iran is a very dangerous proposition, at least, if you value your freedom that is.

On the fifteenth of June 1969, two conmen found this out to their peril. The judge in their case decided to give them sentences equal to the number of their transgressions. Each ended up with sentences of seven thousand, one hundred and nine years.

The moral of the story? When you’re in Iran, make sure your business dealings are completely, one hundred percent above board, or pay the price!

2. Ten Thousand Years

To date, it remains the longest sentence handed down in the United States.

Dudley Wayne Kyzer, who had brutally murdered his wife, mother in law, and a college student, was sentenced, in 1981in Tuscaloosa, in the state of Alabama, to what remains the longest term in US history.

The judge ruled that because of the brutality of the crimes, he would serve ten thousand years for his wife’s murder, plus an additional life sentences for each of his other crimes.

Kyzer later appealed the sentence, and requested to have it commuted, however, the judge who heard the appeal stated that it was outside his jurisdiction, and that Kyzer should have made the appeal within thirty days of sentencing. His ten thousand year sentence therefore stands.

1. Longest Sentence Ever Demanded

It’s not clear if it was ever handed down, but the top spot on this list has to go for the most excessive, longest sentence ever demanded. Particularly considering the crime.

In Palma de Mallorca, Spain, on March 11, 1972, a twenty two year old man named Gabriel March Grandos went to trial. The crime he was accused of was the failure to deliver some forty two thousand or so letters. As a mailman, this amounted, in the eyes of the government, to fraud.

The sentence requested? Three hundred and eighty four thousand, nine hundred and twelve years.

Without a doubt, delivery of the mail is a very important task, however, one has to wonder whether the sentence requested was not, perhaps, just a little excessive, given the crime!

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