An offender may get a community sentence if they are convicted of an imprisonable crime by a court but are not sent to prison. This could be because, for example:

  • the court thinks they are more likely to stop committing crime than if they go to prison
  • it is the first time they have committed a crime, or
  • they have a mental health condition that affects their behaviour.

A community sentence means punishment and rehabilitation are carried out in the community instead of in prison.

An offender who receives a community order will need to complete one or more requirements, at least one of which must be imposed for the purposes of punishment. The requirements could include:

  • unpaid work, potentially up to 300 hours
  • an appropriate rehabilitative requirement, for example a drug rehabilitation or alcohol treatment
  • a curfew, for example up to 16 hours a day for 4–12 months
  • exclusion requirement, for example from the place the offence was committed
  • prohibited activity, for example from attending a football match

If a person fails to comply with the requirements they can be dealt with in court for breach of the order. Failing to turn up to an unpaid work shift would be an example of a community order breach.

What is the penalty for breaching a community order?

The penalty for breaching a community order depends on how far the offender has – or has not – complied with the order.

There are four levels of compliance ranging from high compliance to wilful and persistent non-compliance. The court will assess an offender’s level of compliance by looking at:

  • the offender’s overall attitude and engagement with the order as well as the proportion of elements they have completed
  • the impact of completed or partially completed requirements on the offender’s behaviour
  • the length of time between the order and the breach

Wilful and consistent non-compliance may result in the offender being re-sentenced and receiving a custodial sentence.

A breach that otherwise involves a high level of compliance could result in one of the following penalties:

  • an added curfew requirement of up to ten days
  • additional unpaid work of up to 20 hours
  • a Band A fine

Find out more about how penalties for breaching a community order are worked out in the sentencing guideline and the different types of sentence the courts can impose.

Useful information


Are sentences getting softer and fewer people being sent to prison?
Between 2012 and 2020 the prison population in England and Wales has been relatively stable. This is largely down to a combination of:

  • fewer offenders being dealt with by the courts
  • increases in the volume of serious offences being dealt with by the courts, which has led to longer immediate custodial sentences, and
  • the recall population.

At the same time, most types of crime have been falling. The Crime Survey for England and Wales for the year ending March 2020 shows that long-term falls in overall crime since the mid-1990s have continued, with the size of the decline increasing even more compared with previous years. The estimated 9 per cent reduction is driven by significant falls in theft and criminal damage, and crime is at the lowest level since the survey was introduced in 1981, although some offences have increased, including those involving knives or sharp instruments, robbery and homicide.

Also, the most recent criminal justice statistics show that average custodial sentence lengths are the highest they have been in a decade.

When reading a media report about a particular case, you might think that that the sentence is too lenient or too severe. This can sometimes be because the report does not cover all the facts of the case, and the media tend to report the most extreme cases. Judges will normally produce sentencing remarks that explain their reasons for giving a particular sentence. Sentencing remarks for some high-profile cases can be found on the judiciary website.

The Ministry of Justice publishes detailed analyses of prison population trends over time and offender management statistics. Also, a detailed analysis of prison population trends can be found here.

See more on sentencing myths and the facts.

The information on this page is not a complete legal analysis of the offence and is not a substitute for legal advice. The law will be different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.