Penal sanctions

 The word ‘sanction’ has traditionally been defined as a punishment applied by the state to someone guilty of a criminal offence to make it feel like a punishment. Below is a list of the different penal sanctions.

The Norwegian Correctional Service is responsible for carrying out penal sanctions. The Execution of Sentences Act ( regulates how sentences can be executed.

Unconditional imprisonment

A sentence of unconditional imprisonment means that the sentence has to be served in prison. Anyone breaking the law under the age of 18 at the time of the offence can only be sentenced to prison when particularly necessary.

The Correctional Service can release offenders on parole when two-thirds of the sentence (minimum 60 days) have been served. Parole is only granted if the service believes that the offender will not commit a new offence during the parole period.

How soon the sentence must be served depends on the waiting list. Sentence must be served as close to the prisoner’s home as possible.

Suspended sentence

A suspended sentence means that the accused avoids prison as long as certain conditions are fulfilled. Sections 35-37 of the Penal Code give details of which conditions the court can set for suspension of sentence, and eventually for it to lapse completely. Read more at

Sentence will lapse if the conditions are fulfilled. The requirement that the accused must not commit new criminal offences during parole is always a condition. Parole is normally two years.

Other conditions can include:

  • victim confrontation and fulfilling any mediation meetings agreed with the victim

  • remaining in a given place

  • taking an education

  • refrain from drinking alcohol

Juvenile sentencing

Juveniles under the age of 18 committing new and serious crimes have to undergo a 'recuperative’ process in court. The process involves their own family and friends, victim and support apparatus and the result is a case-specific penal sanction.

Community service

Community service is an alternative to imprisonment. The accused is sentenced to perform service of benefit to the community, activities or programmes for a set number of hours within a set period. The Correctional Service decides when and how the sentence is to be discharged.

Community service is used in particular for young offenders or offenders in drug/alcohol rehabilitation. 

If the offender commits a new criminal offence or fails to complete their community service, the court can rule that the whole or part of the sentence should be served in prison.


Fines can be used either as the only sanction or in combination with a prison sentence. If an offender is sentenced to imprisonment only, the judgement will have no immediate effect. Fines are only used therefore occasionally and in conjunction with a suspended sentence to give more impact to a sentence.

The size of the fine has to be set in proportion to the criminal act committed. Consideration also has to be given to the offender’s financial circumstances. Guidelines for the awarding of fines are contained in section 27 of the Penal Code (see

Fines in drink driving cases are always in principle used that correspond to 1½ times the gross monthly wage of the offender.  

Preventive detention

A sentence of preventive detention is given if an ordinary prison sentence is not deemed to be sufficient to protect society from the offender. See conditions in the Penal Code at

A preventive detention ban can in principle mean that the offender risks being imprisoned for the rest of their lives, as the sentence can be extended for five years at a time. The court has to define a period of time with a minimum period going up to a maximum of 21 years. The sentence can be subsequently extended beyond the official maximum.

A preventive detention sentence is used instead of a prison sentence. The minimum period therefore has to correspond to the minimum prison sentence that would have been given.

Violent, repeat offenders within serious crime, offenders who are considered a danger to the lives and health of others and sex-offenders are usually amongst those sentenced to preventive detention.

Before a preventive detention sentence can be handed down, the offender has to be examined. The court can also have a psychiatric examination performed on the offender.

When serving their sentence, preventive detention prisoners are given the opportunity to change their ways and adapt to life outside the walls. The preventive detention sentence cannot be repealed before such a change in behaviour is registered.

The court can allow release on parole for preventive detention offenders, which cannot be compared with parole for ordinary sentences. The parole period can stretch over a very long period, and there are usually strict conditions that can be gradually eased.

Preventive detention was introduced in 2002 and replaced the tariff of custodial supervision on top of a prison sentence.

Loss of rights

Loss of rights means that an offender is banned from holding an office, running a business or undertaking an activity in the future. See section 56-59 of the Penal Code (

Loss of rights is used when the court rules that a criminal offence indicates that the offender is unfit to hold or can misuse an office, business or activity. Safeguarding the public interest must also be necessary to justify its use.

Special criminal sanctions

Offenders deemed to have been unaccountable for their actions at the time of the offence cannot be given a normal sentence. 

Being ‘unaccountable for their actions’ is defined by section 20 of the Penal Code ( as being in a psychotic state, unconscious or mentally unbalanced to a high degree when committing the criminal offence.

When deciding whether a person can be held unaccountable for their actions, the court uses psychologists or psychiatrists. These are referred to as expert witnesses.

Mandatory psychiatric treatment

A sentence for transfer to mandatory psychiatric treatment means that an offender is transferred to the specialist health service. In practice, this means commitment to a psychiatric hospital for examination and treatment of a mental disorder. This course of action is used if the accused was unaccountable at the time of the offence. It may also be necessary to protect society from new, serious crimes. Read the conditions at

Read more on unaccountability in the Legal Glossary

A sentence of mandatory psychiatric treatment has to be reviewed by the court every three years and can last for life. If the offender is declared to be healthy at any time, he can be freed. The offender can also be sentenced to serve the rest of their sentence in prison. This requires that one of the conditions for risk of re-offending is fulfilled.

Compulsory treatment

An offender who cannot be punished because he/she was mentally unbalanced to a high degree at the time of the offence (unaccountable) can be committed to compulsory treatment instead. A basic condition for compulsory treatment is that it is deemed necessary to protect society. Another condition is that there is an immediate risk of the offender committing a new serious criminal offence or that can be a danger to the lives, health or freedom of others. Compulsory treatment must be provided in a special unit within the special health service. The offender can be detained against their will and can be recalled if they fail to comply with the order, if necessary by force. Compulsory care can only be maintained as long as the conditions of the law on risk of re-offending are fulfilled. The prosecuting authority must either decide to rescind the sentence or bring the case before the District Court for a ruling on whether the sentence should be maintained.

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