What Does a 15 Years to Life Sentence Mean?

A sentence of 15 years to life, 25 years to life or similar sounding words all mean the same thing. The only difference is the time frame.

What the Number Means

The number in the sentence indicates the minimum number of years the inmate must serve before he or she can be considered for parole. If the inmate is sentenced to 15 years to life, he or she can request a parole hearing after 15 years. A 25 years to life sentence means the inmate can make the request during the 25th year of incarceration.

What about the Life?

When such a sentence is handed down, there is the possibility that the inmate will remain incarcerated for life. If an inmate is sentenced to 10 years, the inmate might be granted parole after a few years, but if not, he or she is going to be released after completing 10 years. With an X number of years to life sentence, there is no promised completion date.

Chances of Parole

While it is possible for an inmate to get paroled after completing the minimum number of years in the sentence, it is not typical. In most cases, parole is denied the first time. It is also not unusual to be turned down several times over a period of years.

How Can the Inmate Help?

There is never a guarantee of parole on such a sentence, but the following actions by the inmate might help increase their chance of success.

  • Avoid disciplinary tickets. Good behavior and following the rules is very important.
  • Take classes. Choose anything of interest. The goal is to follow through on commitments.
  • Take self-help steps such as anger management counseling, drug and alcohol help. Etc.
  • Practice speaking before the board. They will want to know you accept responsibility for your actions and that you have plans in place to handle stress in the outside world.

Final thought: This type of sentence doesn’t have to mean life but it does mean the inmate must take extra care to stay out of trouble while incarcerated so the parole board might say yes someday.

Video: Teen convicted of double murder gets life sentence



About Mark Miclette 682 Articles
writes about inmates, jails, prisons, courts and the lives of people who live and work within the United States Criminal Justice System. His mission can be summed up in a single word; transparency.