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Some NC inmates with life sentences may be released

Should offenders who were sentenced to life in prison during the 1970s ever be released from prison? The North Carolina Supreme Court has taken up the issue and will be deciding if criminals sentenced to life in prison for murder, rape and other crimes should eventually be released from prison despite being sentenced to life in prison.

During the 1970s, life in prison was defined in North Carolina as being sentenced to a maximum of 80 years in prison. Now the State Supreme Court will decide if offenders sentenced to life in prison during 1974 and 1978 will remain in prison or if they will be released. If the court rules that offenders do not need to remain in prison for the rest of their lives, offenders who received the maximum 80 years in prison may be released from prison early due to good behavior credits.

North Carolina's Department of Correction has a system that allows prisoners to receive credits for good behavior and conduct, which they call good time. They can receive credits for good behavior and for extra work they've done in the kitchen or other jobs, called gained time. Both of these credits can help prisoners reduce their prison sentence.

The Department of Correction used the credits for prisoners sentenced to life in prison to determine parole eligibility as well as to reduce their custody restrictions. They also give sentence reduction credits to inmates who were sentenced to life in prison during the 1970s because it was an 80 year sentence and not life in prison.

The State Supreme Court will be reviewing inmates sentenced to "life" in prison during the 1970s. These inmates argue that they have earned many credits throughout their time in prison that their 80 year sentence has been reduced by so much that they should be released from prison. A total of 15 inmates have petitioned for their release from prison under this argument.

If the North Carolina Supreme Court rules that inmates sentenced to the maximum 80 years in prison during the 1970s can be released from prison due to their good behavior credits, many inmates may be impacted throughout the state.

Source: KTVU, "NC court hears again if 'life' sentences mean life," Emery P. Dalesio, Feb. 14, 2013

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