Imprisonment or full-time custody means being sentenced to go to prison for a period of time.  When being sentenced to imprisonment, the judge will set a full-term of the sentence as well as a seperate non-parole period.  The non-parole period is a minimum term that must be served in custody before the offender is eligible to be released on parole. 

There are many crimes that include maximum penalties of imprisonment if found guilty of the offence. However, imprisonment is a last resort penalty in NSW.   That means a person must not be sentenced to imprisonment unless the court is satisfied that, having considered all possible alternatives, no penalty other than imprisonment is appropriate.

If you are sentenced to a period of imprisonment you have been convicted of the offence. It will appear on your criminal record.

What crimes can you be sentenced to imprisonment for?

If you have been found guilty of an indictable offence, you could be facing a penalty of imprisonment.   

There are two types of offences – Summary Offences and Indictable Offences.  Summary Offences are dealt with under the  Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW).   While there are some summary offences that can result in imprisonment, these types of offences are typically not considered as serious as indictable offences.  Summary Offences can be heard by a magistrate alone and most commonly result in less serious penalties being imposed such as fines, for example.  

Indictable offences are dealt with under the Crimes Act 1900.   These are more serious crimes that are typically heard in the local or district courts.   The Crimes Act 1900 lists many offences that carry maximum sentences of imprisonment.  These include 

Full-time custody sentences

In sentencing a person to imprisonment, a court will set a full term for the sentence as well as a ‘non-parole period’.  A non-parole period is a minimum term of imprisonment before the possibility of release.  A non-parole period must be less than three-quarters of the full term sentence. 

The judge will also set an additional ‘parole period’  period.   This is where the offender, once released from prison, will be supervised by probation and parole (the parole period). 

Special Circumstances for non-parole periods

For the non-parole period to be less than three-quarters of the head sentence the court is required to make a finding of special circumstances.  Special circumstances can include:

  • Rehabilitation
  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • First custodial sentence
  • Ill health, disability or mental illness
  • Accumulation of individual sentences
  • Protective custody
  • Long-term offenders
  • Youth
  • Hardship to family members in exceptional circumstances
  • Self-punishment
  • Parity with co-offender
  • Sentencing for offences committed many years earlier




Crimes Act 1900 No 40, Current version for 1 January 2022 to date (accessed 16 March 2022 at 15:30)

This information is intended as a general guide to law only.  It should not be relied on as legal advice, and it is recommended that you speak with a qualified lawyer about your situation.

Australian Criminal Law Group and its suppliers make every reasonable effort to ensure the accuracy and validity of the information provided on its web pages. At the time of updating, this information was correct, however, given the laws in NSW and Australia are continually changing, Australian Criminal Law Group makes no warranties or representations as to its accuracy. 

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