Unconditional imprisonment and community service
A sentence of imprisonment can be imposed for a fixed term of a minimum of fourteen days and a maximum of twelve years or, if the sentence concerns several offences, a maximum of fifteen years. Sentences of imprisonment of over two years are always unconditional, which means that they must be served in prison. A sentence of imprisonment imposed for a period not exceeding two years may be conditional. A person under 18 years of age will be sentenced to unconditional imprisonment only in exceptional cases. A prisoner is usually conditionally released before he or she has served the prison sentence imposed on him or her in full. More information about this can be found on the website of the Criminal Sanctions Agency.
In principle, life imprisonment means that the sentenced person will stay in prison until the end of his or her life. However, the Helsinki Court of Appeal may, upon application of a prisoner serving a life sentence, decide on the conditional release of the prisoner after he or she has served 12 years in prison (or 10 years in the case of a young offender). The sentence may be terminated also by a pardon issued by the President of the Republic. For more information on presidential pardons, see the website of the Ministry of Justice.
Community service is an alternative to imprisonment. Community service means that the sentenced person performs unpaid work for the benefit of the community. The prerequisites are that the length of the sentence of imprisonment imposed is at most eight months and that the sentenced person is both suitable and willing to perform community service. The suitability assessment is a responsibility of the Criminal Sanctions Agency and the ultimate decision on community service is made by the court.
A maximum of 200 hours of community service can be imposed. For example, a three-month sentence of imprisonment is converted into 90 hours of community service, which must be performed over a period of three months. The objective is that the sentenced person serves the sentence as long as he or she would have served a sentence in prison. Therefore, it is not possible to perform the required number of community service hours over a period of ten days, for example. A breach of the activity obligation, arriving late at the service venue or being under the influence of intoxicating substances may result in the unperformed part of the community service being converted back into unconditional imprisonment.
If the length of a conditional sentence of imprisonment is 8 months or more, community service can be imposed as a supplementary sanction.