Home > The Justice Process > What Are Indeterminate Sentences?

What Are Indeterminate Sentences?

By: Lorna Elliott LLB (hons), Barrister - Updated: 24 May 2020 |
Parole Sentence Indeterminate Ipp

There are broadly two different types of prison sentence: indeterminate and determinate sentences. Determinate sentences are sentences for which the prisoner will have a specific date upon which they will become eligible for parole, when they will be released from custody if they do not get parole, when their licence will expire, and when their sentence will expire.

Minimum Terms

Indeterminate sentences are different from this as there is no specific date upon which the prisoner will be released. Prisoners do not become eligible for parole until they have served their ‘minimum term.’ This used to be called a ‘tariff’. For example, a person convicted of murder may have been sentenced to ‘life’ imprisonment, with a requirement that they serve a minimum term of sixteen years. The sixteen year period is the punitive period of the sentence, and it is only after this period has been served that the prisoner would become eligible for parole.

The Parole Procedure

Once this period has been served, the prisoner will have a parole hearing before the parole board. This happens automatically, about six months before the prisoner first becomes eligible for parole or up to three years before this date (if the prisoner is serving a longer minimum term.) At this hearing, the parole board will consider reports relating to the prisoner’s progress in prison, such as their conduct in prison, any courses that they have completed, a report from their probation officer and the prison psychologist, and their attitude in relation to the offence for which they are serving the sentence. The parole board will then consider whether to:

  • make a recommendation for release
  • make a recommendation that the prisoner should be transferred to open conditions
  • give directions for further information
  • make no recommendation

If a prisoner is not released at this stage, the secretary of state will decide when the prisoner’s next review will be. In any event the next parole date cannot be any later than two years later, unless the prisoner consents to this.

Release or Open Conditions?

In order to direct that a prisoner should be released from prison, the parole board have to be satisfied that the public no longer has to be protected from the prisoner, and that the risk of them committing serious offences is very low. The parole board may decide that the prisoner should alternatively be transferred to open conditions in prison. The parole board may do this if the prisoner has reduced their risk to the public sufficiently to allow them to be unsupervised in the community (temporary release on licence). Further, they need to be happy that the prisoner will comply with the conditions of their temporary licence, and that the risk of them absconding from prison while on temporary licence is low.

Prisoners Serving Imprisonment for Public Protection

It is not only prisoners serving life sentences who are subject to this process. Prisoners who have been deemed to be ‘dangerous’ by the court and whose offence warrants a sentence of imprisonment of at least four years for their offence may be sentenced to an IPP or imprisonment for public protection. A large number of prisoners who are given IPP end up languishing in prison past their minimum term as it is very difficult for them to prove that they have reduced their ‘risk’ sufficiently to the satisfaction of the parole board.

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My son was 17 when he was remanded in custody pending an investigation.Subsequently charged 7/8 months later,(though is completely innocent)and was tried in the crown court 3 weeks after he turned 18.Please could you advise if an ipp sentence was appropriate.He was sadly and very worryingly found guilty,given 8 years with 4 year tarriff.Released after 6 years,and recalled after 6 months,and now has been slowly loosing his mind for 7 years now.Please advise.Really broken Mum.
Treeza - 24-May-20 @ 7:35 PM
Hi, my partner got released after being given an 18 month sentence but ended up doing 9 years due to having ipp after being out for 11 weeks he got recalled for suspecting he was intoxicated twice which wasn't true even drug tests were negative aswell as supposedly dealing to others he was in the hostel with which is also untrue would he be able to apply for release after serving 28 days to the parole board or does it automatically have to go for an oral hearing even though he hasn't re-offended x
Kayl33 - 25-Jan-16 @ 9:47 PM
Hi my brother was just released after serving 10 years I P P on a 4 year tariff so hopefully your partner will get parole. But unfortunately after only 7 weeks got recalled for not returning to the bail hostel he couldn't cope with the outside after 10 years let down by the offender management probation etc he was expected to be able to use a computer when had not seen 1 in 10 years so god only knows when he will be home again.
Nad - 9-Sep-15 @ 9:15 AM
Lissy31 - Your Question:
Bit of advice please anyone? My friend is on license until Jan2017 and has been recalled back to prison he has been there ten months and not had a trial yet the court has been adjourned four times now. I was wondering how long and how often can they keep adjourning it for and if it turns out he has re offended will they make him complete his license or give him another jail sentence. anyone's advice would be helpful, cheers :-)

Our Response:
I'm afraid we can't really answer this question or predict what the court may decide. Should you need any further advice, you may want to give the Offenders' Families helpline a call via the link here.
CourtroomAdvice - 21-Aug-15 @ 11:55 AM
Bit of advice please anyone? My friend is on license until Jan2017 and has been recalled back to prison he has been there ten months and not had a trial yet the court has been adjourned four times now. I was wondering how long and how often can they keep adjourning it for and if it turns out he has re offended will they make him complete his license or give him another jail sentence. anyone's advice would be helpful, cheers :-)
Lissy31 - 20-Aug-15 @ 11:20 AM
@anna - I sympathise with your predicament. Unfortunately, every decision has to go through the prison authorities.
CourtroomAdvice - 4-Aug-15 @ 1:51 PM
hi my son was abused by a nursery worker when he was only 4. I should have known something was wrong because everyday when I collected him he smelled of vomit and his trousers always wet, he had bruises and teeth marks but I was told he was always bumping into things he also had bite marks on his back but I was told he was bitten by other children. when my son was growing up he developed an alcohol and drugs problem to cope the doctor said he is suffering from ptsd and hyper vigilance disorder and was self medicating on these drugs to forget his past he has had therapy but had to leave the childrens services and placed on the waiting list for adult therapy. my son was attacked in a club toilet by a gang of three men but as they approached him he lost his temper and broke the first mans jaw the other ran away, my son was arrested and pleaded guilty to his crime ,he was given 3 years and ten months and a court order was made that my son was to have a sentence plan put into place to wean him off alcohol and drugs and therapy for his depression, it came to nothing he was not given his plan and was released without it, I pleaded with his probation officer to put it into action before he re offends and get called back to prison, the probation officer started refusing my calls and it happened my son was arrested out of his mind on drink and drugs, the police noticed he had problems and called me to see him, he was taken back to prison and the same probation officer pushed for the standard recall so now my son is in prison and now the help is pushed further away. can I plead with somebody to release him on tag and strict curfew so he can attend his therapy that we found for him at last, without the help of his probation officer. please help.
anna - 1-Aug-15 @ 10:14 PM
Hi, Just a quick question, if a prisoner has been recalled and it was a full recall, prisoner got sentenced for 18months, is that prisoner eligible for a cat D prison?
AMMS - 4-May-15 @ 10:09 PM
@S.J. I have included a link to Action for Prisoners' Families, Serious and Sex Offenders Briefings Sentence Progression leaflet which should give you the answers here.
CourtroomAdvice - 30-Apr-15 @ 9:57 AM
Can a prisoner who is in his parole window be forced to do sex offender coursers? Thanks S.J.
S.J. - 27-Apr-15 @ 10:37 AM
@kirsty - I'm afraid HDC is not applied to sex offenders. If you need further verification you can always get in touch with The Offenders' Families Helpline to discuss the matter free and confidentially. link here .
CourtroomAdvice - 20-Nov-14 @ 12:48 PM
Hi im wondering if you can help me, my partner is currently in prison and is trying to get home detention curfew, he's a section 52 sex offender that had no direct victims only people on social network sites. No children targeted. He's not on the sex register, no SOPO or STOP course required. He's not subject to MAPPA or public protection he's tag date was 27.3.15 but it has been put as presumed unsuitable, he's not needing to take any courses and has remained adjudication free. Im wondering is there any way to change this? Is it possible that i could write to the governor of the prison and try to convince them he is suitable for tag? Any advice that you could give will be hugely appreciated. Thank you.
kirsty - 19-Nov-14 @ 9:31 PM
My partner is an IPP, he got a tariff of 3/years he know is in his 10year,he is due his parole hearing anytime now /if he does not get anywhere is there any action or advice he could get/ could he go to the European courts ?
jo - 30-Aug-14 @ 11:40 PM
i looked every where to find out how long the desion takes on hdc from putting the app in
thellie - 26-Jun-14 @ 9:47 PM
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