Although the term 'prison' is often used to refer to custodial sentences, in fact only defendants aged 21 or over can be sent to prison. Defendants aged 18 to 20 who receive a custodial sentence are sentenced to detention in a Young Offender Institution. On the rare occasions that youths (17 and under) receive custodial sentences, they usually have a specific type of custodial sentence known as a Detention and Training Order. The sentencing types also differ for murder cases (see more below).  

ADULTS ONLY

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Unless specified otherwise, what follows relates to defendants aged 18 or over. Sentencing for youths is different to sentencing for adults. You can read more about youth sentencing in the Further Information section below.

"CUSTODIAL SENTENCES SHOULD BE USED AS A LAST RESORT. BEFORE A CUSTODIAL SENTENCE CAN BE IMPOSED, NOT ONLY MUST THE DEFENDANT HAVE BEEN CONVICTED OF AN IMPRISONABLE OFFENCE, BUT THE JUDGE OR MAGISTRATES MUST BE SATISFIED THAT THE CUSTODY THRESHOLD HAS BEEN PASSED"

When will a custodial sentence be imposed?

CUSTODY THRESHOLD

Custodial sentences (i.e. imprisonment or Detention in a Young Offender Institution) should be used as a last resort. Before a custodial sentence can be imposed, not only must the defendant have been convicted of an imprisonable offence, but the Judge or Magistrates must be satisfied that the custody threshold has been passed. The custody threshold is contained in s.152(2) Criminal Justice Act 2003 which provides that the court must not pass a custodial sentence unless it is of the opinion that the offence, or the combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it, was so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified for the offence.  

Sentencing Options Other than Custody

As such, the Judge or Magistrates must look to other sentencing options if they can. At the bottom end of the sentencing scale are fines and absolute and conditional discharges. Further up the scale are Community Orders. And further up still are Custodial Sentences. Even where the court considers that only a custodial sentence is justified, it can still in certain circumstances suspend the sentence or defer the sentence.

Sentencing Guidelines

In making an assessment as to the appropriate sentence, the court must use the Sentencing Guideline for the offence in question unless this would not be in the interests of justice. There are now sentencing guidelines produced by the Sentencing Council (sentencingcouncil.org.uk) for most offences. You can read more on this website about Sentencing Guidelines.

Further Information on Prison & Prison Sentences

See top right on this page for more specific information about custodial sentences and related matters on this website.

Also here are some useful links to further information on other websites about prison sentences: