Community sentences

A guide to some of the alternatives to prison sentences and what they involve.

What is a community sentence?

A community sentence is a way for a court to address someone’s offending behaviour without sending them to prison. They’re sometimes known as 'alternatives to prison'.

Courts can issue different types of community sentence. Whenever they do this, the person who’s sentenced will receive support and information from our Justice Social Work team.

Community payback order

The community payback order is the most common type of community sentence imposed by the courts. It can last for:

  • a minimum period of 6 months
  • a maximum period of 3 years

When a court issues this type of sentence, it imposes specific requirements. These are tailored to:

  • the circumstances of the person they’re sentencing
  • the nature of their offending

The requirements of a community payback order might involve the individual:

  • receiving treatment for their use of drugs or alcohol
  • receiving treatment for mental health issues
  • giving someone compensation
  • being supervised by a social worker
  • taking part in a programme that addresses their behaviour
  • staying in specific accommodation
  • carrying out unpaid work
  • being restricted to a particular place, such as their home
  • doing or not doing certain things, as directed by the court

You can find out more about this type of sentence on the Scottish Sentencing Council website.

Drug treatment and testing order

In some cases, a court might issue a Drug treatment and testing order rather than a prison sentence. They might decide to do this when the person who committed the offence:

  • has a significant history of substance-related offending
  • has a serious substance-use problem
  • is likely to benefit from drug treatment

Before a court makes this decision, the person who committed the offence must be assessed by both health and social work staff.

If a court issues a Drug Treatment and Testing Order, it can last up to 3 years. During this time, the person who committed the offence must:

  • stay in contact with health and social work staff
  • receive regular drug tests
  • take part in regular reviews

Structured deferred sentence

In some cases, a court might impose a structured deferred sentence before it issues its final sentence. This type of sentence is a way for the person who committed the offence to:

  • get structured support that helps them address their behaviour
  • demonstrate to the court that they can take steps to reduce their risk of reoffending

The structured support they receive might be provided by:

  • our Justice Social Work team
  • a partner agency

If a court imposes this kind of sentence, it’ll review its effectiveness after a set period of time. At this point, it might decide to:

  • extend the structured deferred sentence
  • impose a different kind of sentence