Determinate prison sentences

A determinate prison sentence is where the court sets a fixed length for the prison sentence and is the most common type of prison sentence. For example, an offender may be sentenced to four years in prison. This is the maximum period of time the offender could spend in prison. However, the offender will not necessarily spend the whole of this time in prison.

The rules governing when a prisoner is released vary depending on the length of the sentence and when the offence was committed. For sentences under two years the rules changed on 1 February 2015. The table below gives examples of the rules before and after the changes. If an offender breaches the terms of their supervision they will be brought before a magistrates’ court and may be punished for the breach.

Offenders sentenced to two years or more will serve half their sentence in prison and serve the rest of the sentence in the community on licence.  While on licence an offender will be subject to supervision and the licence will include conditions. If an offender breaches their conditions, they may be recalled to prison.

  Offences committed before 1 February 2015 Offences committed on or after 1 February 2015
Sentence imposed by court Period in custody before release Arrangements on release Period in custody before release Arrangements on release
6 month sentence 3 months 3 months in community, but with no licence conditions or supervision 3 months 3 months’ licence and 9 months’ post-sentence supervision.Total supervision 12 months
10 month sentence 5 months 5 months in community, but with no licence conditions or supervision 5 months 5 months’ licence and 7 months’ post-sentence supervision.Total supervision 12 months
18 month sentence 9 months 9 months’ licence 9 months 9 months’ licence and 3 months’ post-sentence supervision.Total supervision 12 months

Offenders serving sentences of between three months and four years, with certain exceptions for violent and sexual offenders, may also be eligible for release on a home detention curfew (HDC). This allows an offender to be released up to 135 days before their automatic release date. The offender will be electronically tagged and a curfew imposed. If the offender breaches the curfew they can be recalled to prison.

In 2015, 89,979 offenders were given a determinate sentence, representing 7 per cent of offenders sentenced.

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