It is important to understand the sentence you have been given. The type and length of sentence can make a difference to how you progress through the prison system, which prisons you are held in and how and when you can be released.
If you do not understand your sentence, you should be able to ask the following people:
- Your legal adviser
- Your Prison Offender Manager (POM)
- Your Community Offender Manager (COM)
- The sentence calculation clerk
Prison staff will usually be able to see what type of sentence you are serving and any relevant dates on the prison computers, so you could also try checking with them.
Am I serving a determinate or indeterminate sentence?
It is important to understand if you are serving a determinate or indeterminate sentence. This should have been made clear to you at court and by your legal adviser, but we often speak to people who are not sure, even many years into their sentence.
A determinate sentence is a sentence with a fixed end date. It includes a period of time in prison and a period of time in the community ‘on licence’.
There are different types of determinate sentence which have slightly different release arrangements. Many will be standard determinate sentences with automatic release at the halfway point, but there are exceptions to this for some offence types and sentence lengths.
If you are not sure what release arrangements are, we recommended looking at the Operational Guidance for Sentence Calculation Policy Framework: Determinate Sentenced Prisoners (June 2022). There is a table from page 17 which lists sentence types and release dates.
Prisoners Advice Service also have an information sheet about Release, Licence and Conditions (Determinate Sentences) which goes into detail about the release arrangements for different determinate sentences.
You may be serving an extended sentence, such as an Extended Determinate Sentence (EDS) or Extended Sentence for Public Protection (EPP or ESPP). Extended sentences are a type of determinate sentences but with an additional period on licence. Some extended sentences require approval by the Parole Board for earliest release, whereas for others that release is automatic.
Extended sentences can be confusing to understand because they have changed many times over the years. We have produced a separate information booklet about extended sentences – which you can read here.
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. This is called your ‘tariff’.
If you are serving an indeterminate sentence your release will be subject to review by the Parole Board after you have served your tariff.
You have an indeterminate sentence if you are serving:
- a life sentence.
- an Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence.
- a Detention for Public Protection (DPP) sentence.
There is more information about the parole process in our advice guide about The Parole Board and parole reviews.
How can I find out about my sentence and release date?
The court decides how long your sentence will be, but the prison will work out the details.
If you are have been sentenced to a determinate (fixed term) sentence, you should be told what date your sentence finishes within 5 days of the prison working it out. You should receive a ‘release date notification slip’ with this information on.
Prison staff should check your sentence dates and let you know within 5 days if anything happens which might change your sentence.
If the prison is waiting for information on how long your sentence will be, you may be told the information is provisional. This means it might change. You will get a new notification when the prison has all the information and has worked it out again.
How is my sentence worked out?
A member of staff at the prison will work out your sentence. They are some times called the ‘sentence calculation clerk’.
Your sentence is worked out by looking at
- the date you were sentenced
- how long your sentence is
- the type of sentence you were given
- the date you committed the offence
- the prison service will take into account any time you spent in prison on remand for the offence if it was committed before 4 April 2005
- if your offence was after 4 April 2005 the court may tell the prison not to count the time you spent on remand.
Staff follow the instructions in Sentence Calculation Policy Framework.
Speak to a member of prison staff if you need help to understand your prison sentence.
If you think your sentence has not been worked out correctly, speak to a member of staff or put in an application to the sentence calculation clerk. You should say why you think it is wrong as ask them to work it out again. If you have further difficulty you should speak to your solicitor.
What happens if I am transferred?
If you are transferred to another prison, a member of staff there should check that your sentence has been worked out properly. You should receive a new notification within 5 working days of your arrival.
ADAs Added days awarded
APD Approved Parole Date
ARD Automatic release date
CED Custody end date
CRD Conditional release date
DTO Detention and training order
DYOI Detention in a young offender institution
EDS Extended Determinate Sentence
ESPP or EPP Extended sentence for Public Protection
FTR Fixed Term Recall
HDC Home detention curfew
HDCED Home detention curfew eligibility date
LED Licence expiry date
NPD Non parole date
PED Parole eligibility date
ROTL Release on temporary licence
SDS Standard Determinate Sentence
SED Sentence expiry date
SLED Sentence and licence expiry date
SOPC Special Custodial Sentence for Certain Offenders of Particular
TUSED Top Up Supervision End Date
Useful policy documents
- Prison Reform Trust information sheet on ‘Extended Sentences’