Average length of custodial sentences
Last updated 8 August 2023 - see all updates
1. Main facts and figures
- from 2009 to 2017, the average length of custodial sentences given to offenders increased for all ethnic groups
- in every year during the same period, White offenders were given the shortest custodial sentences on average, and Asian or Black offenders were given the longest
- in 2017, among all age and ethnic groups, White juvenile offenders (aged under 18 years) were given the shortest custodial sentences on average (at 17 months), as well as those from the Other (including Chinese) group (at 13 months)
- among female offenders, Asian offenders and those from the Other (including Chinese) group were given the longest average custodial sentences compared with all other ethnic groups
- for offences of violence against the person, Black offenders had the longest average sentence in 2017 (at 39 months), and White offenders had the shortest (at 21 months)
- for drugs offences, Asian offenders had the longest average sentence (at 42 months) and offenders from the Other (including Chinese) ethnic group had the shortest (at 32 months)
- Asian offenders had a longer average sentence for possession of weapons (at 25 months), compared with White, and offenders from the Other (including Chinese) ethnic group (both at 12 months)
- among all ethnicities and offence groups, the shortest average custodial sentence was for public order offences committed by offenders from the Other (including Chinese) ethnic group (at 5 months) and White offenders (at 6 months)
- among all ethnicities and offence groups, the longest average custodial sentence was for criminal damage and arson committed by offenders from the Other (including Chinese) ethnic group (at 74 months), followed by sexual offences committed by offenders with Mixed ethnicity at (65 months)
2. Things you need to know
What the data measures
The data measures the average custodial sentence length for offenders given an immediate custodial sentence by a court.
If an offender was sentenced for more than one offence, the data relates to the offence for which the offender was given the longest sentence.
Figures are based on the length of sentences given in court, not the length served by the offender.
The data includes:
- ‘indictable-only’ offences, such as murder or rape, which can only be heard in a Crown Court
- ‘triable either way’ offences, such as burglary or drugs offences, which can be heard in magistrates’ court or Crown Courts
Sentences are rounded to the nearest month.
Not included in the data
The data does not include:
- life sentences or other custodial sentences where there is no set end date (known as ‘indeterminate sentences’)
- ‘summary’ offences, such as motoring offences and minor criminal damage
The ethnic groups used in the data
The data uses the following ethnic groups based on the 2001 Census:
- Other (including Chinese)
Ethnicity wasn’t known for about 1 in 5 offenders. The data only includes offenders whose ethnicity was known.
Read the detailed methodology document (PDF opens in a new window or tab) for the data used on this page. See page 49 for information on how average custodial lengths are calculated.
3. By ethnicity of offender over time
|Year||Asian||Black||Mixed||White||Other inc Chinese|
4. By ethnicity of offender and type of offence
|Offence Group||Asian||Black||Mixed||White||Other inc Chinese|
|Criminal damage and arson||43||30||36||30||74|
|Miscellaneous crimes against society||16||11||10||11||13|
|Possession of weapons||25||15||15||12||12|
|Public order offences||8||7||8||6||5|
|Violence against the person||30||39||26||21||25|
5. Data sources
Type of data
Type of statistic
Ministry of Justice
Purpose of data source
The data is used by the government to develop, monitor and evaluate criminal justice policy. It reports on activity in the criminal justice system for England and Wales, giving information for the latest year and longer-term trends.