Release from custody


Release on Licence and Post-Sentence Supervision

Automatic Release at the Halfway Point

Where adult defendants receive custodial sentences, the length of the sentence is normally fixed for a definite period. These are known as determinate sentences. A defendant who receives a determinate sentence will not usually serve the whole of the sentence in custody.   

Adult defendants who receive a custodial sentence of up to 2 years (for an offence committed after 31st January 2015) will be automatically released at the halfway point and then be on licence in the community to the end of the sentence. At the end they will then have an additional period of post-sentence supervision to ensure that they are supervised for a period of 12 months.

This means that a defendant who receives 18 months’ imprisonment for an offence of Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) will serve 9 months in custody, then be released on licence for 9 months and then have an additional period of 3 months post-sentence supervision.

Defendants who receive determinate sentences of over 2 years will be automatically released after serving half of their sentence and the remaining half is served on licence in the community.

Return to Custody

Once released, breaching the terms of licence/supervision or being charged with another offence committed during that period can result in being recalled to custody.

Exceptions to the Halfway Rule

There are some exceptions to the halfway point release provisions:

  • For some prisoners, release can take place even earlier under Home Detention Curfew (see below).  
  • For prisoners serving life sentences (except those serving whole life orders), they will be required to serve a minimum term before they can be considered for parole. 
  • Prisoners deemed ‘offenders of particular concern’ are eligible for discretionary release by the parole board at the halfway point but may be required to serve all of their sentence in custody (read more below).  
  • Prisoners serving extended sentences must serve two-thirds of the custodial element of the sentence (and more in some situations).  You can read more about these sentences below.


Early Release Home Detention Curfew

Release Before the Halfway Point

Defendants who receive sentences of between 3 months and under 4 years may also be eligible for release on Home Detention Curfew (HDC), which enables release up to 135 days before automatic release at the halfway point. The sentencing court takes no part in deciding upon early release and will not take the possibility of such into account when fixing the length of sentence.

Once released on HDC, the defendant will have to wear an electronic tag and a curfew will be imposed. Breaching the curfew requirement can result in being recalled to prison.

Eligibility Exceptions to Home Detention Curfew

Not all prisoners are eligible for HDC. Prisoners who are not eligible include:

  • Those serving sentences of 4 years or more;
  • Violent and sex offenders who have received extended sentences;
  • Those subject to sexual offences notification requirements;
  • Prisoners serving a sentence for failure to return to custody following temporary release;
  • Prisoners subject to a Hospital Order;
  • Prisoners recalled to prison from a Home Detention Curfew or licence period:
  • Prisoners liable to removal from the UK.

Offences Presumed Unsuitable for Home Detention Curfew

Certain offences are 'presumed unsuitable' for HDC. This means that early release under HDC will not take place unless the prisoner can demonstrate there are exceptional circumstances to justify it.

Offences presumed unsuitable for HDC include homicide-related offences (e.g. manslaughter, attempted murder, making threats to kill, causing death by driving), explosives and terrorism offences, possession of an offensive weapon or bladed instrument, possession of a firearm with intent (to endanger life, cause fear of violence, resist arrest, commit an offence), child cruelty offences and offences aggravated on the grounds of race, religion or sexual orientation.  

See the Further Information section below for further details including the full list of offences preseumed unsuitable for HDC.


Offenders of Particular Concern

No Automatic Release at the Halfway Point

One exception to the normal release provisions at the halfway point is ‘offenders of particular concern’. 

Defendants aged 18 or over are considered to be offenders of particular concern if:

(a)    they have been convicted of an offence within Schedule 18A to the Criminal Justice Act 2003. This includes terrorism offences and offences of rape of a child under 13 and assault of a child under 13 by penetration;  and

(b)   they receive an immediate custodial sentence for the offence which is neither a life sentence nor an extended sentence.

In these circumstances the ‘offender of particular concern’ will not be entitled to automatic release on licence after serving half of the sentence. Instead he can apply for parole and may be released at this halfway point up until the end of the sentence (i.e. a 30 year old defendant sentenced to 8 years for a Schedule 18A offence would be entitled to apply for release at 4 years. He could be released by the parole board at any stage up until the 8 year stage. At 8 years he must be released).  Offenders in this category have an additional 1 year period of licence added to their sentence. To use the example above, if the defendant was released after serving 4 years in custody, he would be on licence for 5 years; if released after 8 years he would be on licence for 1 year.


Extended Sentences for Dangerous Offenders

At least Two-Thirds to be Served

An extended sentence can be imposed only in the Crown Court and is one type of sentence designed for defendants who are assessed as dangerous but for whom a sentence of life imprisonment is not justified. With an extended sentence there is a custodial element and a licence element.  It is this licence element which is extended in this type of sentence, the purpose of this being for the protection of the public. 

Unlike usual determinate (fixed term) sentences where release will take place by the halfway stage, a defendant sentenced to an extended sentence will serve at least two-thirds of the custodial element of the sentence. Where this custodial element is ten years or more, or the offence for which the sentence was imposed is one listed in Schedule 15B of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, there is no right to automatic release at the two-thirds stage. An application for parole can be made at that stage; if parole is refused release must take place at the conclusion of the custodial element, unless a further successful parole application has been made resulting in earlier release. Where the custodial term imposed is less than ten years and the offence is not one listed in Schedule 15B, release must take place by the time two-thirds of this custodial element of the sentence has been served. See below for more information.

Further Information

Click here for more information about Extended Sentences.

Offences presumed unsuitable for Home Detention Curfew are contained in Prison Service Instruction (PSI) 43/2012 in Annex B.  Click on the first link in the list here.

Further information on Home Detention Curfew from the website.

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