Time in custody

This information sheet will tell you about the different types of custodial sentences which can be given by a court. It also explains which Scottish prison your relative may be sent to.
How much time will someone spend in prison?


An accused person may be remanded to prison or be allowed out on bail. Any time spent on remand is taken into account when calculating the time still to be spent in custody.

Sentences under 4 years (short-term)

Where a person is serving a sentence less than 4 years, they are automatically released at the half way point of their sentence. Some people in prison may be considered for Home Detention Curfew (HDC), although this is not automatic and is subject to specific criteria (see HDC Information Sheet 14). Prisoners serving less than 4 years are generally released unconditionally unless they are subject to a post-release condition imposed by the court at the time of sentence.

Sentences 4 years and over (long-term)

Where a person is serving 4 years or more, they are eligible to be considered for early release on parole (by the Parole Board for Scotland) at the half way point of their sentence. This is known as the Parole Qualifying Date or referred to as PQD.

If the prisoner is granted parole, they may be released early on licence on the direction of the Parole Board any time between the halfway and two-thirds point of their sentence. The licence runs from the date of release until the end of the sentence.
If the prisoner is not granted parole, they are released on non-parole licence at the two-thirds point of their sentence, and the licence runs until the end of the sentence.

There have been some changes which impact on those serving a sentence of four years or more and were sentenced on or after the 1st of February 2016. Prisoners in this situation will now not automatically be released at the two-thirds point. If the Parole Board agrees that the prisoner can be released early, they can still be released half way through their sentence. However, if they are not released at this point, then they will be released when they have six months left to serve.

What happens if someone is serving a life sentence?

On the expiry of a prisoner’s punishment part (the period fixed by the courts), the case is considered by the Parole Board sitting as a Life Prisoner Tribunal (LPT). This consists of 3 members of the Parole Board. The LPT decides whether the prisoner should be released.

Which prison will the prisoner be sent to?

A prisoner’s sentence begins at a ‘reception’ prison or a local prison. This may be where the prisoner would have been on remand before they were convicted. A male prisoner serving a long-term sentence will often be moved to Shotts or Glenochil.

Polmont is Scotland’s national holding facility for Young Offenders aged between 16 – 21 years of age. Cornton Vale is the main women’s prison in Scotland, although there are small female units in Edinburgh, Grampian, Greenock, Inverness, and Polmont.

Depending on progress, and length of sentence, male prisoners may be able to move to a less secure prison such as a ‘top end’ facility. Eventually, they may be able to serve their sentence at Castle Huntly open prison. Women may be housed in ILU (independent living units) in their prisons, usually when nearing the end of their sentence and in preparation for release.

All information sheets are available at www.familiesoutside.org.uk All materials Copyright © Families Outside 2017. Publication date: April 2017

Families Outside is a company limited by guarantee registered In Scotland No. 236539 and is recognised as a Scottish charity by the OSCR, No. SC025366.

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