In many countries, stipulated term criminal sentences (i.e., not indeterminate or "life") can be extremely long, well over a hundred years. The US is one well-known example.

Assuming all other things equal, I'm trying to base an idea around the realistic impact/fallout/events would be, flowing from a notorious US prisoner guilty of some hideous crime, simply failing to die after a reasonable number of decades, and with his/her prison term coming close to completion.

But this is a situation that's never arisen - such prisoners are implicitly assumed to always die in prison, unless pardoned, so I'm having issues figuring which way(s) the public fallout would go, once any posturing and untenable claims of what some politician will do, fall away, and public bodies and individuals have to start treating it seriously.

To give some flesh to the context:

  • The prisoner was unambiguously guilty of some heinous crime(s). Could be murder, kidnap, arson, probably notorious or multiple. Think about cases like Manson (US), the Moors killers (UK), someone who pleaded guilty and took 150 years without parole, in return for not seeking death, and where the public sentiment is "never freed, over my dead body" even decades later.
  • They've now served 138 years of it, and by the calendar are about 170 years old, but show no sign of age related loss of faculties or condition. An informal interview with their lawyer elicits the statement that they are looking forward to enjoying life again and making up for lost time - whatever that ambiguous statement means.
  • Some people are intrigued. Others scared and demanding "something be done!"

Nobody really understands, and the prisoner either doesn't understand the reason themselves, or in any case refuses to discuss or give any consent to investigate while locked up. Its not even clear what their lifespan might be, and none of their deceased or distant living relatives seem to share this anomaly.

I'm a bit stuck figuring what realistic reactions might be, from today's executive and justice departments might be, or the prison service, if this happened. I imagine they would make statements about ensuring public safety and also note they can't do much - but as pressure grows and the situation gets a higher political profile, and senior political/departmental careers start to be on the line, we can expect more serious thought on it - but what would that be likely to comprise?

  • $\begingroup$ In other jurisdiction the sanction is "end detention: never". That would not be an issue. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Aug 23, 2018 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ True, I'm thinking of cases where a fixed sentence is given, on the belief it will equate to dying in jail. $\endgroup$
    – Stilez
    Aug 23, 2018 at 15:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If it's known that life can last that long, what you say cannot happen $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Aug 23, 2018 at 15:57
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think that the person is first of their kind $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2018 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ This is a pretty major plot point in the Altered Carbon series by RIchard K Morgan. The books are pretty good, as is the Netflix Original series. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2018 at 16:17

4 Answers 4


So I'm sure this sort of thing would make the news long before the convict's sentence was up, since people living to 170 years old is unprecedented. What's worse, is that as the decades go on, and the convict refused to age, people would get more and more apprehensive about it. Probably as the prison sentence was coming to a close people would start to get up in arms about it, calling for the sentence to be changed to indefinite and so on and so forth.

Assuming that these outcries for a sentence change went unanswered, and the convict was let free, he would probably be assassinated shortly thereafter. Think of JFK's assassinator Lee Harvey Oswald. He was shot and killed by Jack Ruby before ever making it to trial. I wouldn't be surprised if someone took "justice" into their own hands after the convict was released.


Just let an inmate kill him

Have inmates kill the criminal for you. Just hire a lifer to do it, no fuss no worries just clean up after them (theirs even been cases where this has happened) hell it won’t even cost you much. Pay could include, less time on their own prison sentence, give them cool items like a TV or exotic foods (for prison anyway), or let in some contraband for them to enjoy. When you are a lifer you will do all most anything to change your circumstance even kill for it.

Unless his immortal but then you will have bigger problems

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I can imagine a short story where the lifer hired to kill him somehow inherits the condition and, when he realises it decades later starts fearing the day someone will come for him. That could make a good short story. $\endgroup$
    – Kaito Kid
    Aug 23, 2018 at 18:41

I work in a prison, I think I can give some insight.

Specific Wording Of the Sentence Matters

So a life sentence carrying the phrase "without parole or the rest of his natural life" is pretty binding. It means that as long as his heart is beating and he is breathing that his sentence is in effect. Thing is...

Lawyers Exist

Short of a very solid life without parole that cannot possibly be appealed he is probably going to appeal. Also his lawyer can argue for various suspensions, reductions and what not. The crimes lose their sensational effect with the public, the victims die and the families move on. Given enough time the people harmed and society as a whole forget, and lawyers are able to appeal for reduced sentencing and for assorted other things like the possibility of parole and whatnot.

Legal Precedent Does Not Exist

A guy turning out to have a lifespan of well over human norm has never been given a life sentence. A lawyer could very successfully argue for a guy to be released or at-least extended the option of parole by pointing out that locking a man up for 2 centuries or more constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. What's more, he could argue that the proof his client even committed a crime no longer exists. If somehow successfully granted are-trial or in an extensive appeal process it would become increasingly difficult for a prosecutor or a parole board to push for harsh sentencing. For a parole board to deny parole they need to be able to demonstrate that releasing the inmate would cause harm to the community, and distress for the victims and survivors. If there are no victims or survivors to come in and argue that he needs to stay locked up that route is gone. Plus 138 years is a long long time, the society and community that he harmed no longer exist. 138 years ago cowboys were still shooting it out with Indians on horseback, the probability that evidence survived all that time is pretty low. This means nobody can even prove that a crime occurred in the first place. Lawyers live for this stuff, it couldn't get more easy for them to get him off or at-least get him parole.


He's probably going to end up being released, if not for a sentence served then most assuredly with a successful parole hearing. I cant exactly explain what happens to him once he's out since he's a medical mystery that possibly represents billions in medical research, but the idea he would remain locked up indefinitely is probably not very likely.


If we look at this from a pure legal point of view, they'd have to be released when their term in jail is up. But most politicians wouldn't need to worry, protecting personal rights is a very hot button issue no matter the time period, so ensuring the criminal was released at the appointed time would probably be favorable to a solid 50% of voters, landing him a net equal effect in his vote.

But on a individual level, vigilante's who think the prisoner deserves death may attack as soon as he's released, or even before hand. I can imagine a riot in which people invade a prison to get him.

Or even before that, a guard or group of gaurds may decide to be executioners for the day. If I was in a position of power and this scenario was happening, I might even encourage the warden to put guards who might go "to far" near the prisoner, if not straight up appoint guards to kill him before his term ends. Of course I'd do it a couple years before the end of his sentence as opposed to just before the sentence ended, so it looks at least slightly less like government subterfuge.


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