Indeterminate Sentence Law & Legal Definition


An indeterminate sentence is a sentence imposed for a crime that isn't given a definite duration. The prison term does not state a specific period of time or release date, but just a range of time, such as "five-to-ten years."

It is the opposite of determinate sentencing, in which a fixed term or incarceration is imposed. However, an inmate sentenced under a determinate sentence can be released early due to good time credits, or overcrowding. States with determinate sentencing deny the judge any discretion over the length of the sentence and also often rule out any possibility of probation or alternative to prison. Determinate sentencing has been cited as a factor leading to increases in prison populations. Determinate sentencing eliminates parole boards and credit for participation in rehabilitation programs. Exact requirements vary by state.

Factors considered in granting parole to an offender with an indeterminate sentence include:

  • The original recommendation of the sentencing judge and prosecutor.
  • The length of time an offender has served on the conviction to date.
  • Any aggravating or mitigating factors or circumstances relative to the crime of conviction.
  • The offender’s entire criminal history.
  • All available information from the victim or the victim’s family, to include comment on the impact of the crime, concerns about the offender's potential release, and requests for conditions if the offender is released.
  • Participation in or refusal to participate in available programs or resources designed to assist an offender in reducing the risk of reoffense.
  • The risk to public safety.
  • Serious and repetitive disciplinary infractions during incarceration.
  • Evidence of an inmate's continuing intent or propensity to engage in illegal activity (e.g., victim harassment, criminal conduct while incarcerated, use of illegal substances.)
  • Statements or declarations by the offender that he/she intends to reoffend or does not intend to comply with conditions of parole.
  • Evidence that an inmate presents a substantial danger to the community if released.