There are so many different types of prison sentences but do you know the difference between them? Imprisonment is the most common form of punishment so knowing the different sentences can be useful.

Firstly, a sentence is the punishment that a judge or magistrate gives to someone who has been convicted of an offence. The worse the offence, the harsher the punishment. Here are the sentences, explained simply:

Concurrent and consecutive sentences

You may get a concurrent or consecutive sentence if you have committed 2 or more offences and so you would be given separate sentences for each of the offences.

If your sentence is concurrent, it means you will serve all sentences at the same time. For example, if you get a 2-month sentence and an 8-month sentence, you will serve 8 months in total because you are serving both sentences at the same time.

However, if your sentence is consecutive, it means you will serve your sentences one after the other. If you get a 2-month sentence and an 8-month sentence you will serve 10 months in total because you serve them one after the other.

Suspended sentence

If your sentence is between 14 days and 2 years (or 6 months in the magistrates’ court), your sentence may get suspended for up to 2 years. This means you will not go to prison if you comply with the requirements set out by the court. These may include:

  • Completing unpaid work

  • Complying with a curfew

  • Attend rehabilitation/ treatment programmes for alcohol and drugs

If you do not comply with the requirements, or you are convicted of another offence during the time of your suspended sentence, you may need to serve your original sentence as well as the sentence you receive for the new offence.

According to the Ministry of Justice’s Criminal Justice System statistics quarterly publication, in 2022, around 42,000 offenders had a suspended sentence orders imposed, representing 4 per cent of offenders sentenced.

Determinate sentence

Determinate sentences are very common. This is where you are given a sentence of, for example, 1 year but you may not spend this entire year in custody. When you get released and what happens after your release may depend on the length of your sentence and the type of offence you have been sentenced for.

Indeterminate sentence

An indeterminate sentence is a sentence without a set release date, but there will be a minimum time you must serve in prison which will be set by the court. If you are serving an indeterminate sentence, the parole board will review your release after you have served your tariff.

Life sentence

When someone is given a life sentence, they will have to serve that sentence for the rest of their life. If you are convicted of murder, the court must give you a life sentence. You may also get a life sentence for other serious offences such as rape and armed robbery. When a judge passes a life sentence, they must specify the minimum term an offender must spend in prison before becoming eligible to apply for parole (sometimes called the tariff). After serving the minimum term, they can only be released from prison if they are no longer a danger to the public.

If you are under investigation or have been charged with a criminal offence, you should seek advice from a criminal lawyer at the earliest opportunity. At Farleys, we have a team of criminal law specialists on hand to provide advice and representation. Get in touch today on 0845 287 0939 or contact us by email.