Prison Time

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A custodial sentence means more than just time in prison.

In most cases, people will serve part of their sentence in the community. If they commit an offence while serving their sentence in the community, the court can order their return to prison. The judge can backdate their sentence to start from the time they first went into custody or any time after that.

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See the legislation for more detail. Sentences that are set for a certain length of time are called determinate sentences.


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Sentences that do not have an end point, such as a life sentence, are called indeterminate sentences. People given a short term sentence normally will be automatically released from prison into the community after serving half the time in prison. For example, offenders sentenced to two years imprisonment will be released to serve the rest of their sentence in the community after one year. A person given a long term sentence can serve all but the final 6 months of the sentence in prison, unless the Parole Board for Scotland recommends that they should be released earlier into the community.

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The Parole Board will only start to consider whether or not to release the person into the community as they approach the halfway point of their sentence - the earliest point at which they normally can be released. If an offender is not released, the Board will re-consider parole within 16 months. They can be recalled to prison if they commit an offence or otherwise breach the terms of this licence.

For more information on what factors are taken into account by the Parole Board for Scotland when considering release on licence see their FAQ webpage. An extended sentence combines a period in prison with a further set time of supervision in the community the extension part. It is used to protect the public and can be given to offenders who have committed a sexual or violent crime; or abduction on indictment more serious crime.

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The person serves the full prison part of the sentence - unless the Parole Board for Scotland recommends early release. When released they are on licence until the end of the extension part of the sentence and can be recalled to prison if they breach the terms of their licence.

The extension period of the sentence in the community can be up to 5 years for sheriff court cases and up to 10 years for High Court cases.


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  • These are sentences that do not have a set end point, such as a life sentence. However, the judge will set a punishment part for such sentences which is the minimum time an offender must spend in prison. After that time, they can be considered for release on licence by the Parole Board for Scotland. Each time release from prison is not recommended, it will be reconsidered within two years. Life sentences must be given for murder under the law, but they can also be given for other extremely serious offences such as repeated rape.

    If a person is sentenced to life imprisonment, the judge must, by law, set a punishment part of the sentence. This is the minimum time the person must spend in prison before they can be considered for release into the community by the Parole Board for Scotland. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the punishment part can be lengthy.

    To date, the longest punishment part given in Scotland is 37 years. If a person sentenced to life imprisonment is released into the community, they will be on licence for the rest of their life and can be recalled to prison if they breach the terms of their licence.

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    If offenders are considered to be safe to serve the rest of their sentence in the community, they will remain under the intensive supervision of a criminal justice social worker. If the person commits another crime, they can be sent back to prison. Read more. And it will be an extremely expensive stay.

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