A prison sentence is one of the punishments a judge or magistrate can issue if a person is found guilty of a crime. Prison sentences can also be called ‘custodial sentences’.
If a person is found guilty of committing more than one crime, they are usually given a sentence for each crime. If the sentences are served at the same time, this is known as ‘concurrent sentences’. If the sentences are served one after another, this is known as ‘consecutive sentences’.
The different types of prison sentence for adults are:
Suspended prison sentences
This type of prison sentence means that the person is allowed to remain in the community but there are strict rules the person must follow. These rules might include staying away from a place and/or person, and/or doing unpaid work. Doing unpaid work during a suspended prison sentence is called ‘community payback’.
If the person breaks the rules of their sentence, they can be sent to prison.
Determinate prison sentences
A determinate prison sentence is for a fixed length of time.
If the sentence is for a year or more, the person will spend the first half of the sentence in prison and the second half in the community ‘on licence’. There are strict rules for being in the community ‘on licence’. If any of these rules are broken, the person could go back to prison.
If the determinate prison sentence is for less than a year, the person is usually released halfway through their sentence.
Indeterminate prison sentences
An indeterminate prison sentence does not have a fixed length of time so there is no set release date. These sentences are given when the person is a danger to the public.
The person must spend a minimum amount of time in prison before they can be considered for release. The minimum amount of time in prison is called a ‘tariff’.
The decision to release a person who is serving an indeterminate prison sentence is made by the Parole Board. The Parole Board is an independent group that carries out risk assessments to see if prisoners can be safely released into the community.
If a person is found guilty of murder, they must be given a life sentence. A life sentence may also be given for rape and armed robbery. If a person serving a life sentence is released from prison and commits another crime, they can be sent back to prison at any time.
If a person is given a whole life term sentence this means the person will never be considered for release.
This information has been based on https://www.gov.uk/types-of-prison-sentence.