Imprisonment

The most severe sentence available for Commonwealth offences is imprisonment.

A person can only be sentenced to a term of imprisonment if the offence they have been found guilty of is punishable by imprisonment.

Credit for Pre-Sentence Detention

An offender sentenced to a term of imprisonment for a federal offence will generally be given credit for pre-sentence custody.[1]

Concurrency or Cumulation

A sentence of imprisonment imposed on a federal offender may be served concurrently (at the same time) or cumulatively (on top of) other sentences of imprisonment imposed.[2]

Whether sentences are to be imposed concurrently or cumulatively is determined by the sentencing court.[3]

Period of Imprisonment to be Served

A federal court must fix the minimum period of a sentence of imprisonment for which an offender is to be incarcerated. There are three ways that a court sentencing a federal offender to a term of imprisonment may determine the minimum period of incarceration. These are:

  1. A Recognizance Release Order (RRO);
  2. A Non-Parole Period (NPP); and
  3. A straight sentence of imprisonment.

There are complicated requirements for when the above mechanisms apply. A rough guide is as follows:

Length of Sentence

Required Option

Not more than 6 monthsSingle RRO optional. NPP unavailable. Immediate release available. Straight sentence available.
Greater than 6 months but not greater than 3 yearsSingle RRO required. NPP unavailable. Immediate release available. Straight sentence available.
Greater than 3 yearsSingle NPP required. RRO not available. Straight sentence available.

Different requirements apply in circumstances where a person is sentenced to a term of imprisonment when they are serving an existing RRO or NPP.

Recognizance Release Order (RRO)

A Recognizance Release Order (RRO) is an order allowing an offender to who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment to be released subject to certain conditions.[4] An offender released on an RRO will ordinarily be subject to recognizance, which means they must be of good behaviour for a period the court specifies (up to five years). Other conditions, such as payment of reparation, treatment or rehabilitation, may also be fixed as conditions of an RRO.

When fixing an RRO, the court may direct that an offender be released immediately, or after a specified period.[5] If an offender is released immediately, they are effectively sentenced to a wholly suspended sentence of imprisonment. Although suspended sentences have been abolished in Victoria since September 2014, they are still available for federal offences through an RRO.

An RRO is generally only available for a period of imprisonment of 3 years or less.[6] The court must impose an RRO if the term of imprisonment imposed is more than 6 months and up to 3 years.[7] If the term of imprisonment is 6 months or less, the court may impose an RRO or sentence an offender to a straight sentence.[8]

Non-Parole Period (NPP)

A non-parole period (NPP) specifies the minimum time an offender must serve before being eligible for parole. The Commonwealth Attorney-General decides whether or not someone should be released on parole once they have served their NPP.[9] Parole may be revoked if a person breaches or is reasonably suspected of breaching a condition of their parole.[10] Parole is automatically revoked if a person commits an offence while on parole and is sentenced to more than 3 months’ imprisonment.[11]

A NPP is generally only available for a period of imprisonment of more than 3 years.[12]

Some offences require a mandatory non-parole period.[13]

Straight Sentence

A court may also impose a straight sentence on an offender. This is where a person is sentenced to a term of imprisonment with no mechanism for release during the term of imprisonment.[14]

A court must ordinarily give reasons for sentencing a person to a straight sentence.[15] This requirement does not apply when a court sentences an offender to a straight sentence of less than 6 months.


[1] S 16E(2)-(3) Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)
[2] S 19 Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)
[3] S 19 Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)
[4] s 20(1)(b) Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)
[5] s 20(1)(b) Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)
[6] s 19AC(1) Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)
[7] s 19AC(3) Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)
[8] s 19AC(3) Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)
[9] S 19AL Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)
[10] S 19AU Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)
[11] S 19AQ Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)
[12] s 19AB Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)
[13] See e.g. s 19AG(1) Crimes Act 1914 (Cth); s 236B Migration Act 1958 (Cth)
[14] ss 19AC(4) and 19AB(3) Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)
[15] ss 19AB(4), 19AD(5), 19AE(5) and 19AR(5) Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)