Custodial sentences

Imprisonment is the most severe sentence available to the courts.

Custodial sentences are reserved for the most serious offences and are imposed when the offence committed is “so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified for the offence” (section 152(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003).

A custodial sentence may also be imposed where the court believes it is necessary to protect the public. The length of the sentence depends on the the seriousness of the offence and the maximum penalty for the crime allowed by law.

There are also some minimum sentences that have been introduced by Parliament for some serious offences unless there are exceptional circumstances:

  • a minimum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment for a third Class A drug trafficking offence and three years for a third domestic burglary;
  • a minimum sentence of five years for certain firearms offences; and
  • a minimum sentence of five years for using someone to mind a weapon.

Types of custodial sentence

There are a number of different types of prison sentence available to a court. Read the sections on suspended sentencesdeterminate sentences, extended sentences, and life sentences to find out more. When an offender is released from prison will depend on the type of sentence.

In 2017, 86,275 defendants were given an immediate custodial sentence, representing seven per cent of all sentences in 2017.

These statistics are taken from the Ministry of Justice’s criminal justice statistics publications.