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Criminal Justice Dictionary


Abscond – An escape that does not involve overcoming a physical security restraint such as that provided by a wall or fence, locks, bolts or bars, a secure vehicle, handcuffs or the direct supervision of staff.

Acquittal – A judgement by a court that a person is not guilty of an offence for which they’ve been charged.

Adjudication – The hearing process following an alleged breach of the Prison Rules by an individual in prison such as failing a drug test or being found with a mobile phone. The individual will receive a charge sheet, also known as a ‘nicking sheet’, detailing the alleged offence.

Aggravating factors – Factors that indicate a higher degree of guilt for an offence or a more than usually serious degree of harm such as previous convictions or the presence of children during the commission of a crime. Aggravating factors are sometimes already reflected in the penalty for an offence but are more likely to come into play at sentencing.

Ancillary order – Additional conditions added to  a sentence that aim to redress the harm caused (such as compensation for victims) or prevent reoffending or revictimisation (such as driving disqualifications).

Approved premises – Residences managed independently or by the Probation Service to provide monitored accommodation to high-risk ex-offenders aimed at reducing re-offending, resettlement and re-integration back into society.

Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork (ACCT) – The procedure for assessing, monitoring and reducing the risk of a prisoner self-harming or committing suicide.


Bail – The temporary release of a person awaiting trial or – if already convicted – awaiting sentencing. Pre-charge bail allows suspects to be released while the police carry out investigations.

The Baroness Casey Review – A 2023 review by Baroness Louise Casey into the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police Service. The review found the Met to be institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic.

Breaching – Breaking, or ‘breaching’, the rules of a probation licence such as, for example, missing an appointment or not keeping to a curfew can mean an individual has to attend court or even return to prison.


Categorisation – Individuals are assigned a security category based on the likelihood they will try to escape from prison and the risk of causing harm they pose to others in prison and prison staff.

  • Category A prison – ‘Prisoners whose escape would be highly dangerous to the public or the police or the security of the State and for whom the aim must be to make escape impossible.’ (Men) (Prison Service Instructions 40/2011)
  • Category B Prison – ‘Prisoners for whom the very highest conditions of security are not necessary but for whom escape must be made very difficult.’ (Men) (PSI 40/2011)
  • Category C Prison – ‘Prisoners who cannot be trusted in open conditions but who do not have the resources and will to make a determined escape attempt.’ (Men) (PSI 40/2011)
  • Category D Prison – See Open prison

Women, where they are not categorised as Category A (also known as ‘Restricted’ status), are categorised on the basis of whether they are suitable for open or closed conditions.

Certified Normal Accommodation (CNA) – A Prison Service measurement of the level of accommodation that can be provided in a prison to a ‘good, decent standard’. Prisons providing places above CNA are deemed overcrowded.

Community sentence – A non-custodial sentence served in the community entailing unpaid work as well as restrictions such as curfews and exclusion from certain areas and requirements to participate in activities such as drug and alcohol or mental health treatments.

Corston Review – Published in 2007, Baroness (Jean) Corston’s seminal review of vulnerable women in the criminal justice system describes the need for a ‘gender-sensitive’ approach.

Court of Appeal – The second tier of the hierarchy of courts in England and Wales, subordinate to the Supreme Court. Split into two divisions, Civil and Criminal, the Criminal Division is led by the Lady (or Lord) Chief Justice.

Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) – An annual survey, the British Crime Survey until 2011, commissioned by the Home Office and the Office for National Statistics that measures levels of crime and public attitudes towards crime and the criminal justice system. Crucially, the survey includes unreported and unrecorded crimes. In 2016, the survey included online crime and fraud for the first time, nearly doubling the overall crime figures.

Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO) – Replacing the Anti-social Behaviour Order (ASBO) in 2014, a CBO can be ordered following conviction for any criminal offence by any criminal court. A CBO can impose a wide range of restrictions on an individual’s persistent anti-social behaviour and may also impose requirements to address the underlying causes of that behaviour.

Criminal justice system (CJS) – The collection of agencies including, but not limited to, the police, the courts, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office which are involved in the detection and prevention of crime, the prosecution of people accused of committing crimes, the conviction and sentencing of those found guilty, and the imprisonment and rehabilitation of ex-offenders.

Criminalisation – The act or process by which behaviours are made illegal, normally by legislation.

Criminogenic – Causing, or contributing to, crime or criminal behaviour, particularly with reference to environments, systems or situations.

Crown Court – The third tier in the hierarchy of criminal courts in England and Wales, above the Magistrates’ Court and below the Court of Appeal. The Crown Court is the primary court for serious criminal offences but will also hear appeals from the Magistrates’ Court and may also sentence those convicted in the Magistrates’ Court as well as those found guilty in the Crown Court.

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) – The primary public agency responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police.

Culpability – The degree of fault by an individual involved in the commission of an offence. Culpability is often linked to the type and level of punishment for an offence, except for strict liability offences.

Custodial sentence – A sentence mandating a term of imprisonment for a convicted person.


Desistance – ‘The long-term abstinence from criminal behaviour among those for whom offending has become a pattern of behaviour’. (McNeill and others, 2012)

Determinate sentence – A sentence that specifies a maximum period of custody to be served (as opposed to an indeterminate sentence).

Deterrence – A justification for many functions of the criminal justice system, most prominently punishment, that they deter people from criminal behaviour.

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) – Previously known as the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), the DBS provides employers with information about criminal records and whether a person has been barred from working in a particular sector, particularly for work involving children, young people or vulnerable adults.

Diversion – A programme whereby a person guilty of a criminal offence takes steps to address the reasons behind their criminal behaviour and so avoids conviction or a criminal record. This is a particularly important process for young people to prevent them being unnecessarily caught up in the criminal justice system.


Electronic monitoring (EM) – Also known as ‘tagging’, EM uses an electronic device, normally an ankle bracelet, to track an individual’s movements through GPS or by radio frequency. An EM order can be made by a court as part of sentencing or may form part of an ex-offender’s licence on release from prison.

European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – A 1950 Council of Europe treaty that protects human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe such as the right to a fair trial and the prevention of torture and degrading or inhumane treatment. The UK was one of the first Council members to sign up to the ECHR, ratifying it in Parliament in 1951. Brexit did not impact the Council of Europe, so the UK still has to follow the ECHR and judgments from the European Court of Human Rights.


HM Inspectorate of Prisons – An independent inspectorate reporting on prisons, young offender institutions (YOIs), secure training centres, immigration detention facilities, police and court custody suites, customs custody facilities and military detention. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons is appointed by and reports directly to the Justice Secretary.

HM Inspectorate of Probation – An independent inspectorate reporting on the treatment of adults and young people on probation and the effectiveness of work to reduce their risk of reoffending. The Inspectorate is funded by the Ministry of Justice and reports directly to the Justice Secretary.

HMPPS – His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. Replaced the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) in April 2017 as the agency responsible for the operational management of offenders in custody and the community.

Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) – Legislation that gives effect in UK law to the rights and freedoms protected under the European Convention on Human Rights.


Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) – A facility to hold in custody people awaiting either permission to enter the UK or deportation. Immigration detention is not a criminal process.

Imprisonment for public protection (IPP) – A sentence without a fixed term introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 where the prisoner is not released until a minimum tariff is served and the Parole Board considers them safe to release. IPP sentences were abolished in 2012 but as of March 2023 there are still around 1,300 people in prison serving these sentences.

Incentive and Earned Privileges (IEP) – The IEP scheme was introduced in 1995 to allow prisoners to access benefits and privileges in exchange for good behaviour. In 2015/16, a little over a third of prisoners were on ‘Enhanced’ IEP status, the highest level. The other categories are Basic, Entry and Standard.

Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) – A group of ordinary members of the public with responsibility for monitoring the day-to-day life of prisoners and detainees. Every prison and IRC has its own IMB of voluntary and independent members.

Indeterminate sentence – A sentence of imprisonment with no fixed term. A prisoner will only be released if the Parole Board deems they are no longer a danger to the public (as opposed to a determinate sentence).

Indictable – Indictable offences are generally more serious offences and, accordingly, must be tried in the Crown Court, not in a Magistrates’ Court.

Integrated Offender Management (IOM) – A cross-agency approach to managing persistent offenders that can include the police, probation, health services and drug and alcohol services.


Joint enterprise – A legal doctrine that attributes liability to the members of a group involved in the commission of a crime for everything that results from that enterprise, allowing people, for example, to be convicted for murder even if they did not deliver the killing blow. The Supreme Court ruled in February 2016 that in order for an individual to be convicted under the joint enterprise doctrine, they must be found to have intended to assist in the resulting crime. This corrected a 1984 ruling that mere foresight was sufficient.

Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) – The agency responsible for selecting candidates for judicial office in courts and tribunals in England and Wales. The JAC does not select magistrates or candidates for the Supreme Court.

Justice Committee – Composed of MPs, this Select Committee scrutinises the work of the Ministry of Justice.

Justice reinvestment – The reallocation of funds away from prison places to local community initiatives focused on early intervention and diversion.


Labelling – A criminological theory that a person’s behaviour and self-identity may be influenced by the words used to describe him, i.e. if you repeatedly label someone an offender, that it increases the likelihood that person will go on to commit an offence.

Lammy Review – A 2017 review led by David Lammy MP into the treatment and outcomes for black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system.

Legal Aid – Financial aid for people requiring legal representation who may not otherwise be able to afford it. Legal aid for criminal cases is managed by the Legal Aid Agency. Some substantial cuts to legal aid for prisoners were ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal in April 2017.

Legal high – see Psychoactive substance.

Liaison and Diversion – Services identifying people who have mental health, learning disability, substance misuse or other vulnerabilities when they first come into contact with the criminal justice system. The service can then support people, refer them for appropriate health or social care or enable them to be diverted away from the criminal justice system into a more appropriate setting, if required.

Licence – The set of conditions that a person must keep to upon release from prison, breach of which may result in a recall.

Life without parole – Also known as a whole life order, someone sentenced to life without parole will only ever be released from sentence on compassionate ground, due to age or poor health. Currently there are more than 70 prisoners across England and Wales sentenced to life without parole.


Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangement (MAPPA) – A mechanism that links up the police, probation and the prison service to manage the risks to the community associated with people convicted of violent or sexual offences.

Magistrate – An unpaid member of the local community, appointed by the Lady (or Lord) Chief Justice, to hear cases at the lowest level of the criminal courts. Magistrates, or ‘Justices of the Peace’, make up around 85 per cent of the judiciary and hear around 90 per cent of all criminal cases in England and Wales.

Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR) – The age at which a person can held criminally liable for their behaviour. In England and Wales, the MACR is 10.

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) – The government body responsible for courts, prisons and probation. The Justice Secretary is also Lord Chancellor.

Mitigating factors – Factors that indicate a lower level of guilt for an offence such as age, mental health issues and remorse.


National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) – The mechanism through which compliance with OPCAT (see OPCAT) is monitored. The UK NPM is composed of 21 members, including HMI Prisons, HMI Probation and the Care Quality Commission.

Net-widening – The process, through gradual changes in policy or practice, by which larger numbers of people are caught up in the criminal justice system.


Offender Engagement Programme (OEP) – A government programme incorporating desistance theory that sought to test the effectiveness of one-to-one supervision.

Offender Assessment System (OASys) – The system used to assess the risks and needs of an offender.

Offender Manager – Someone who works for a Probation Trust, with responsibility for an offender during their entire sentence whether served in custody, the community or both.

Offender Supervisor – Probation’s representative in prison, with responsibility for an offender’s sentence plan while in prison.

Open prison – Also known as Category D prisons, open prisons have the lowest levels of security across the prison estate and are intended for prisoners who present low risk. Open prisons give prisoners the opportunity to begin the process of resettlement before release.

Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) – A 2002 international human rights treaty that aims to protect people deprived of their liberty. The UK ratified OPCAT in 2003.

Overcrowding – Where prisons house more people than they were designed to accommodate.


Parole – A provisional release from prison before the completion of a maximum sentence, subject to conditions.

Parole Board – An independent body that determines whether a prisoner is safe to be released from custody.

Payment by Results (PbR) – A mechanism for public service delivery whereby service providers receive payments contingent on the results they produce.

Penal populism – Where political parties try to outdo each other in a race to be seen to be ‘tough on crime’.

Personalisation – The concept that a person receiving care or support from the state should have some control over what that support looks like.

Plea – A formal statement of either guilt or innocence by a person charged with an offence.

Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) – Introduced in 2012 to replace police authorities, PCCs are elected appointments with responsibility for creating a policing plan for their region, commissioning services and holding the local Chief Constable to account.

Prison Rules – The collection of rules and regulations which govern how a prison is run. The majority of the prison rules are found in a large collection of Prison Service Orders and Prison Service Instructions.

Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) – The PPO is responsible for carrying out independent investigations into deaths in custody as well as responding to complaints from prisoners and offenders under probation who have exhausted the internal complaints systems.

Police Recorded Crime – Data supplied to the Office for National Statistics by the Home Office, the body responsible for collecting recorded crime data from all police forces in England and Wales. This data therefore does not include crimes not reported to the police or incidents the police did not record. (See Crime Survey for England and Wales).

Probation – The portion of a sentence served outside prison, for example, because a person has received a community sentence or because they have been released on parole.

Probation Service – The agency responsible for monitoring high-risk offenders in the community after their release from prison.

Problem-solving court – Courts, often specialising in cases involving drug and alcohol addiction, that require an offender to appear repeatedly before the same judge, giving them the opportunity to engage with a rehabilitative programme in the community.

Procedural fairness – An emphasis that a legal process needs to be (and seen to be) fair and proper, not just its outcome.

Psychoactive substances – Also known as ‘legal highs’, these drugs go by names such as ‘Spice’ and ‘Black Mamba’ and are intended to replicate the effects of illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy.

Punishment – The imposition of a penalty or undesirable outcome on an individual or organisation in response to an offence.


Recall – Where a person on parole violates a condition of their licence, they may be ‘recalled’ back to prison.

Recidivism – The occurrence of a person reoffending.

Rehabilitation – The process of restoring a person who has offended to a crime-free life.

Remand – Being put on remand means a person will be placed in custody pending either a trial or sentencing. Remand prisoners make up around 18 per cent of the total prison population (as of December 2023)

Reparation – Compensation, normally financial, to a victim of crime from their offender.

Restorative justice – Bringing together an offender and the victim or victims of their crime in order to attempt to mend the harm created and move forward.

Retributivism – A criminal justice theory that punishment should be imposed on a person in retribution for their offence.

ROTL (Release on Temporary Licence) – A mechanism that allows a prisoner coming to the end of their sentence to temporarily leave prison for a short period of time (normally a day or a weekend) to aid their rehabilitation and resettlement when transitioning out of custody.


Section 60 – S60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 is a power given by an Inspector or above which allows police officers to stop and search anyone in a specific area without needing to have reasonable grounds.

Sentencing Council – The body responsible for promoting consistency in sentencing through sentencing guidelines and monitoring and reviewing sentencing decisions. Replaced the Sentencing Guidelines Council in 2010.

Sentencer supervision – Supervision by a sentencing judge of an offender, with the hope of building a relationship of trust and interest between the two. (See Problem-solving court).

Spent conviction – A conviction that can effectively be ignored because a sufficient amount of time has passed. The more serious an offence, the longer it will take for a conviction to become spent, which may impact employment in certain areas. However, for most jobs there is no legal requirement to declare a conviction, regardless of whether it is spent or unspent.

Spice – An extremely addictive and potent form of synthetic marijuana that became illegal in 2016 with the passing of the Psychoactive Substances Act. Spice is particularly prevalent in prisons and among homeless people.

‘Starred up’ – The early transfer of a person from a YOI to an adult prison.

Stop and account – Where a police officer stops a member of the public and requests an account of the person’s actions, where they are going or what they are carrying. In these circumstances, the police officer does not have the power to force the person to stay and answer.

Stop and search – A policing tactic that allows a police officer to search a person where there are reasonable grounds to suspect the person is in possession of illegal drugs, a weapon, stolen property or something that could be used to carry out a crime.

Strict liability – A strict liability offence, such as speeding, means a judge only has to determine whether an illegal act occurred, regardless of whether the accused was at fault.

Summary offence – Usually considered to be less serious offences, summary offences are heard in the Magistrates’ Court and often do not even require the defendant to be present.

Supreme Court – The highest court of appeal for criminal cases in England and Wales, above the Court of Appeal.

Suspended sentence – A custodial sentence that is delayed for a period of time in order to allow the offender to complete a period of probation first. If no further offences are committed and the person keeps to the terms of their probation, the sentence may be dismissed.


Tagging – see Electronic monitoring.

Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) – A 2015 government programme to change how people who have convicted of a crime are managed in the community. TR created 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies responsible for managing low risk offenders and the National Probation Service with responsibility for higher risk offenders.

Triable either way – Where an offence can be heard in either the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court.


Usable Operational Capacity – The maximum level of occupancy available across the prison estate in England and Wales.

Up-tarriffing – see Net-widening.


Victim Personal Statement (VPS) – A formal statement by a victim of a crime that can be read out in court, giving them the opportunity to describe how the crime has affected them.

Victims’ Commissioner – Responsible for promoting the interests of victims of crime.


Young Review – A 2015 report by Baroness (Lola) Young on the specific injustices faced by black and Muslim men aged 18-24 in the criminal justice system.

Youth Justice Board (YJB) – The public body responsible for overseeing the youth justice system in England and Wales.

Youth Offender Institution (YOI) – Prisons for young people aged 15-21.

Youth Offending Team (YOT) – A local multi-agency team overseen by the local authority that is responsible for young people under 18 who are caught up in the criminal justice system.