A court can suspend a custodial sentence of between 14 days and two years for a period of up to two years. According to the Sentencing Council’s Imposition of Community and Custodial Sentences guideline, there are three factors indicating when it may be appropriate to suspend a custodial sentence: where there is a realistic prospect of rehabilitation; strong personal mitigation; and where immediate custody will result in a significant harmful impact upon others. The guideline also identifies three factors indicating when it would not be appropriate to suspend a custodial sentence: where the offender presents a risk/danger to the public; where appropriate punishment can only be achieved by immediate custody; and where the offender has a history of poor compliance with court orders.

When a court imposes a suspended sentence, they may add one or more from a range of conditions such as being subject to a rehabilitation activity requirement, being required to undertake between 40 and 300 hours of unpaid work, or being subject to a curfew. The term of imprisonment might be activated if the offender breaches the terms of the Suspended Sentence Order by failing to comply with any requirements attached to the Order or if the offender is convicted of a further offence during the duration of the suspended sentence. In 2018, 42,699 Suspended Sentence Orders were imposed, down from a recent high of 57,072 in 2015.

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Irwin-Rogers, K. and Roberts, J. V. (2019) Swimming against the tide: The Suspended Sentence Order in England & Wales 2000-2017. Law & Contemporary Problems, 82(1): 137-162 http://oro.open.ac.uk/60396/1/Swimming%20Against%20the%20Tide_%20The%20Suspended%20Sentence%20Order%20in%20England.pdf

Mair, G. and Mills, H. (2009) The Community Order and the Suspended Sentence order three years on:  The views and experiences of probation officers and offenders https://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/sites/crimeandjustice.org.uk/files/Three_years_on.pdf

Ministry of Justice (2019) The impact of short custodial sentences, community orders and suspended sentence orders on reoffending https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/814177/impact-short-custodial-sentences.pdf

Sentencing Council (2016) Imposition of Community and Custodial Sentences https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Imposition-definitive-guideline-Web.pdf