Determinate sentences are the most common type of prison sentence.

A determinate prison sentence is where the court sets a fixed length for the prison sentence. If an offender is sentenced to four years in prison, for example, that is the maximum time the offender could spend in custody, but they will not necessarily spend the whole of this time in prison.

The rules governing when a prisoner is released and what happens after release, vary depending on the length of the sentence, the type of offence and when it was imposed.  Time spent on remand or on a qualifying curfew may also affect the release date. The information given here is only an outline of the rules around release and should not be relied on in a particular case.

  • For sentences of less than two years the offender will be released at the halfway point of the sentence and will then be on licence for the remainder of the sentence and may be recalled to prison if they breach the conditions of their licence. At the end of that period they will be subject to supervision (see the table below for examples). If the offender breaches the terms of their supervision they will brought before a magistrates’ court and may be punished for the breach.
  • Offenders sentenced to at least two years but less than four years will normally serve half their sentence in prison and serve the rest of the sentence in the community on licence (see the table below for an example). 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.
  • Offenders sentenced to four years or more for some serious violent or sexual offences will be released at the two-thirds point (see the table below for an example). For other offences the release point will be at the halfway point.
  • For terrorism offences the release arrangements are different and offenders may serve two-thirds or more of their sentence in custody.
Sentence imposed by court Period in custody before release Arrangements on release
6 month sentence 3 months 3 months’ licence and 9 months’ post-sentence supervision. Total supervision 12 months
10 month sentence 5 months 5 months’ licence and 7 months’ post-sentence supervision. Total supervision 12 months
18 month sentence 9 months 9 months’ licence and 3 months’ post-sentence supervision. Total supervision 12 months
3 year sentence 18 months 18 months’ licence
6 year sentence for a serious sexual offence imposed on or after 28 June 2022
4 years 2 years’ licence

Offenders serving determinate sentences of 12 weeks or more, 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 180 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 2022, around 67,000 offenders were given a determinate sentence, representing 6 per cent of total offenders sentenced and 98 per cent of total immediate custodial sentence outcomes. (These statistics are taken from the Ministry of Justice’s Criminal justice system statistics quarterly publication.)