Custodial sentences

Information on Custodial Sentences

For the most serious offences, courts can impose a period of imprisonment or a “custodial sentence”. The Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Act 2015 reformed the system of prisoner release in two areas. It ended the automatic early release for certain categories of prisoner;

  • long term prisoners sentenced to four years or more on or after 1st February 2016 will no longer have to be conditionally released under supervision at the two thirds point of the sentence.
  •  limited flexibility for the Scottish Ministers to bring forward a prisoner’s release date by up to two days for the purpose of effective reintegration of a prisoner into the community

Extended Sentence

An Extended Sentence allows the court to impose additional Social Work supervision on release from custody if they believe the individual may pose a risk to the public after their release. The person will serve the custodial term in prison and will then be subject to supervision for an extension period of up to 10 years.

Supervised Release Order (SRO)

A Supervised Release Order can be imposed when an individual is sentenced to a prison term of between 12 months and 4 years, where they are considered to pose a risk to the public after their release. The court will impose an SRO after considering a Criminal Justice Social Work Report. An SRO can apply for up to 12 months after release.


A Licence is the legal document issued on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, which allows a person to be in the community and not in prison. There are various types of licence, some with particular conditions attached.

The four main licences are Parole Licence, Non-Parole Licence and Life Licence and Short Term Sex Offender Licence.

Parole Licence

Halfway through a long-term sentence (four or more years) a prisoner is eligible to be considered for parole and with the Parole Board’s recommendation, can be released on a Parole Licence.

The licence will require the individual to:

  • Report promptly and co-operate with their supervising (Social Work) officer
  • To be of good behaviour (including restraining from further offending)
  • To comply with the supervising officer's instructions  
  • To inform the supervising officer at once of any changes in address or employment
  • The individual may also be required to undertake counselling for problems such as alcohol, drugs, mental health issues or anger management.

If the individual fails to co-operate with their licence conditions they may be recalled to custody to resume serving their sentence

Non Parole Licence

If parole is refused, the person remains in prison until they are released automatically, once they have served two-thirds of their sentence. The person is then released into the community on a Non-Parole Licence for the final third of their sentence, but is still subject to be recalled to prison to serve the remaining term if they breach the terms of their licence.

Life Licence

Life sentence conditions are set by the Parole Board but are very similar to the standard conditions. Additional conditions can also be imposed and again are likely to be similar to those on standard determinate sentences.

Short Term Sex Offender Licence

Short term sex offenders are released on licence at the half way point of their sentence. Their licence conditions are set by the Scottish Government Justice Directorate.

The Parole Board will only become involved if the individual breaches their licence conditions and are recalled to prison, or if they are seeking re-release following a recall to prison.