Types of prison sentences in UK



Concurrent and consecutive sentences
Suspended prison sentences
Determinate prison sentences – fixed length of time
Indeterminate prison sentences – no fixed length of time
Life sentences
Sentences for young people

Concurrent and consecutive sentences

If someone’s convicted of committing more than one crime, they’re usually given a sentence for each crime.

Concurrent sentences are served at the same time.

Consecutive sentences are served one after the other, for example a 6 month sentence followed by a 3 month sentence.

The judge (or magistrate) tells the person what type of sentence they get and how it must be served.

Suspended prison sentences

A ‘suspended’ prison sentence is carried out in the community.

The person has to meet certain conditions, for example:

  • having to stay away from a certain place or person
  • doing unpaid work – called ‘Community Payback’

If the person breaks the conditions of their sentence they can be sent to prison.

Determinate prison sentences – fixed length of time

A ‘determinate’ prison sentence is for a fixed length of time.

If the sentence is for 12 months or more

For prison sentences of 12 months or more the person spends the first half of the sentence in prison and the second half in the community ‘on licence’.

If they break any licence conditions, for example they commit another crime, they could go back to prison.

If the sentence is under 12 months

For prison sentences under 12 months, the person’s normally released automatically halfway through.

Indeterminate prison sentences – no fixed length of time

An ‘indeterminate’ prison sentence does not have a fixed length of time.

This means:

  • no date is set when the person will be released
  • they have to spend a minimum amount of time in prison (called a ‘tariff’) before they’re considered for release

The Parole Board is responsible for deciding if someone can be released from prison.

Indeterminate sentences are given if a court thinks an offender is a danger to the public.

Life sentences

If a person’s found guilty of murder, a court must give them a life sentence.

A court may choose to give a life sentence for serious offences like:

  • rape
  • armed robbery

A life sentence lasts for the rest of a person’s life – if they’re released from prison and commit another crime they can be sent back to prison at any time.

Whole life term

A whole life term means there’s no minimum term set by the judge, and the person’s never considered for release.

Sentences for young people

People under 18 get different sentences to adults.

Detention and Training Order

A Detention and Training Order can be given to someone aged between 12 and 17.

They last between 4 months and 2 years.

The first half of a Detention and Training Order is served in custody, the second half is served in the community.

Violent or sexual crimes

For severe crimes – usually violent or sexual – young people can get an ‘extended sentence’. They could spend a long time in custody, and when released they’ll be put under supervision for a long time (for example being tagged).


For murder, the court sets the minimum amount of time to be spent in custody. The young person can’t apply for parole before this time.

When released, the young person will be kept under supervision for the rest of their life.

Other serious crimes

Sometimes the sentence for a young person can last as long as the sentence for an adult for the same offence (but not longer). This includes life sentences.

Apply for parole if you’re a young offender

You might be able to get parole as a young offender if you’re:

  • a young adult (18 to 21)
  • a juvenile (under 18)

Parole means you can leave prison or be released from custody before the end of your sentence, but you’ll be kept under supervision.

You may have to apply for parole yourself or the government may apply for you depending on what kind of sentence you’re serving.

You’ll need a solicitor to help you get parole. Ask a member of the prison staff for help getting one if you don’t already have a solicitor. You might be able to get legal aid to help pay for this.

The rules are different in Scotland, Northern Ireland and for adults.

When you can apply

You can apply for parole if you’re serving a fixed-term sentence (where you’re in custody for at least 4 years) and you’re not eligible for being released automatically halfway through your sentence.

You’ll be able to apply 6 months before your ‘tariff’ runs out, which is usually halfway through your sentence. Your tariff is the minimum length of time you were ordered to stay in prison.

When the government will apply for you

The government will apply for parole for you if you’re serving a life sentence. You’ll have to serve your tariff before you can be considered for parole.

You’ll be contacted:

  • 3 years before your tariff runs out if you’re serving a sentence of 4 years or more
  • at least 6 months before your tariff runs out if you’re serving a shorter sentence

SOURCE: Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and Ministry of Justice

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