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Punishment and Sentences

The consequences of committing crimes are very serious and can affect the rest of your life.

Knowing and understanding what the punishments will be and how your career and job prospects will be affected if you have a criminal record should help you to choose not to get involved in any sort of crime.

For some offences there is a fixed penalty or sentence (e.g. murder always results in a life sentence). In most cases, though, the magistrate or judge has a choice about what punishment they think suitable.

You may receive an 'absolute discharge' which means that the court believes you are not guilty and you are free to go home. Alternatively if the court believes you are guilty of the crime you have been charged with, you may receive a 'custodial sentence'. You will either be sent to an adult prison or a young offender’s institution.

Absolute discharge

  • Although you are guilty, the offence is so minor that you will not be fined or punished in any way, the same as if you were not guilty

Conditional discharge

  • The court decides that although you are guilty you should be given a chance and so you are not punished there and then
  • However, if you commit another offence within a certain period of time, you may be punished for the first offence when you are sentenced for the second

Binding over

  • You will be asked to sign a written promise that you will be of good behaviour for a certain period
  • If you are not you will be fined a maximum of £250 if you are under 14, and £1000 if you are under 18
  • If you are under 16 your parents rather than you can be bound over to make sure you behave. In some areas it is not the practice to bind over youth defendants


  • You will be asked to pay a fixed sum according to how serious the offence was
  • The amounts are a maximum of £250 if you are under 14 and £1000 if you are under 18
  • If you are under 16 your parents rather than you will normally be asked to pay the fine

Compensation order

  • If you have caused damage or injury to someone or their property, the court can order you to pay compensation to the victim, up to £5,000
  • This may be in addition to another sentence
  • The court should consider whether or not you are able to pay the amount
  • If you are under 16 your parents will normally be ordered to pay the sum
  • If you are under 17 they may be ordered to pay, although the court could also order that you pay it yourself

Community sentence

  • Sentences of this kind are orders by the court for you to attend a centre, carry out community work or begin a period of guidance or supervision with a probation officer or social worker
  • Details of the order will depend on the seriousness of the offence you committed and whether or not a suitable centre or programme is available
  • If you do not obey the order you can be brought back to court and sentenced in some other way

Combination orders

  • You can be sentenced to a community service order and a probation order at the same time. This is known as a combination order

Custodial sentence

  • This means that you will be held somewhere secure like a young offender’s institution or a prison

Detention and training order

  • These are given to young people under 18 who have committed an offence that would have been punishable with imprisonment if they were adult
  • The first half of a detention order is spent in detention and the second under supervision in the community
  • If you are aged 14-17 and breach the detention order you can be fined £1000 by the Youth Court
  • If you re-offend during a detention order the court will sentence a period of custody

Exclusion order

  • This is usually used for offences relating to football matches
  • If you are violent or found drinking alcohol at a match where it is banned, the court can prevent you from attending further matches
  • An exclusion order is given as an additional sentence on top of another one
  • The sentence might be for a public order offence like violence, racial harassment or drunk and disorderly conduct

Deferred sentence

  • A sentence may be postponed if there are major changes for the better in your life and the court thinks you should be given the opportunity to show that these changes are going to last

Secure training order

  • A sentence to a period in a secure training centre followed by a period of supervision

Secure Remands

  • This is where you go to live in local authority accommodation but with a condition about security (e.g. limits on when you can go out)
  • This is being introduced as an option for the court in sentencing 12-16 year olds

Curfew orders

  • A curfew order is where you are required to stay in a certain place at a certain time (e.g. in your home after 10 at night). Curfews can be for between 2 and 12 hours a day and they can last for up to six months

Electronic monitoring

  • Electronic monitoring is sometimes called 'electronic tagging' or 'tagging'
  • Tagging is where an electronic device is put on you to monitor where you are. It is quite likely to be used in combination with a curfew; to check that you are following the curfew
  • Tagging has been viewed by some people as a breach of civil rights

Binding over parents

  • This is where the court order your parent(s)/guardian(s) to take care of and exercise control over you and make sure you carry out your community sentence properly. If they don't do this they will have to forfeit up to £1000

What your sentence will be depends on lots of things such as whether you have a previous record, how serious the offence is, if you feel sorry for what you did and what level of punishment the court thinks is most effective.

If you are 17 or under and a community or custodial sentence seems likely the court will normally request a PSR (Pre-sentence report) which is a report made by a social worker or probation officer saying why you committed the offence and what can be done to stop or reduce the chance of you offending again. The court uses the report to help it decide what sentence to impose.

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