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Mythbuster: sentencing

A 'sentence' doesn't always mean time in prison

Graph showing that of all offenders dealt with in 2011, 65% received a fine, 14% received a community sentence, 8% were given immediate custody, 7% received a conditional discharge, 4% received a suspended prison sentence, 1% received an absolute discharge and 2% were otherwise dealt with (e.g. by hospital order) There are a range of sentences that Judges and Magistrates can use to punish and rehabilitate offenders in order to reduce reoffending, and they don't all lead to prison.

Some sentences for the most serious crimes can only be served entirely through life imprisonment. But some sentences are served entirely in the community, where offenders have to comply with certain conditions such as a curfew or drug treatment.

And some combine time spent in prison, with time served in the community, and these elements together form an offender's full sentence.

There's a reason fines are the most common sentence

Fines are the most common criminal sentence. But this is because they're usually given for less serious crimes that don't merit a community or prison sentence and there are more of these 'low level' crimes, than there are more serious crimes.

People on suspended sentences don't 'walk free'

0 Number of offenders released 'early' last year

With a suspended sentence, the offender doesn't go directly to prison. But they do have to meet conditions in the community, set by the court to restrict their activities, for example living within a curfew or being treated for drug or alcohol problems.

These conditions can last for up to two years. If the offender breaks these conditions, or commits another offence, they will usually have to serve the original sentence in prison.

Offenders always serve their entire sentence

When people commit an offence serious enough to warrant time in prison, the judge or magistrate will determine how long the offender should serve in custody - what's known as a 'determinate' sentence.

But their time in prison will only be part of their total sentence and they will also have to serve time in the community on licence. So offenders given a determinate sentence always have to complete their full sentence. But half of it is in prison, and half of it is outside prison.

A life sentence does last for life

You be the Judge

A life sentence means the offender will be subject to certain conditions for the rest of their life, but only one of these conditions may be a period of time in prison.

For most life sentences, the judge sets a minimum time the offender will spend in prison before being considered for release on licence by the independent Parole Board.

If an offender is released on licence, they'll be under the supervision of the Probation Service and will have to follow specific rules.

Offenders stay under licence for the rest of their life. If they break the terms of their licence at any time, they will be called back to prison.

Community sentences involve more than unpaid work

Community sentences may be most commonly associated with unpaid work, known as Community Payback. This work can be physically demanding and restrict offenders time.

But there are 11 other possible requirements that can be given as part of a community sentence that can be used in combination with Community Payback to punish and rehabilitate offenders. These include conditions such as wearing an electronic tag as part of a curfew, drug and alcohol treatment and avoiding specific activities that may lead to further offending.

The truth about sentencing...

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