On the few occasions it has happened, good lawyers and public sympathy have usually managed to curtail the extent of the stay inside. The legendary imprisonment of Mick Jagger in the Sixties in fact lasted no more than 48 hours.
Yesterday though, the rap star Mark Morrison was sent down. And for a year. But for Morrison public sympathy is likely to be limited. The case that led to his imprisonment may have had an almost comic element to it. He sent an imposter to do community service for him while he went on tour. But the original crime of affray for which he received the community service involved a violent brawl in which a man was killed.
The self-styled "baddest boy of pop", Morrison's recent history is littered with crime and violence. The 1995 number one hit "Return Of The Mack" for which he is best known appears to have been the catalyst that drove him into lawlessness according to his lawyer, David Evans, yesterday. He said that Leicester-born Morrison, who now lives in west London, "had shot into prominence very quickly".
He had buckled under the pressure that exists in "that milieu" and began doing drink and drugs - but mainly drink, said Mr Evans.
His jailing for 12 months followed a newspaper exposing that the 25-year- old singer sent an imposter to complete the work at a homeless hostel in London on his behalf.
It was the second time Morrison had been before the court for breaching the 150-hour order he was given in 1995 for his part in a nightclub fracas in which a student died, the court heard.
He failed to turn up at Leicester Crown Court for resentencing last month because he was in Barbados for "drugs rehabilitation" and was arrested on his return to London's Heathrow airport last week.
He went to Barbados to think about the future - his father is terminally ill - and he wanted to say sorry to the court, Mr Evans said.
He probably also needed to think about the past. As the prosecuting counsel said in court, Morrison had a string of previous convictions and had served a three-month jail sentence for threatening a London police officer with an electric stun-gun last year. He was fined pounds 50 by Leicester magistrates in 1993 for obstructing a police officer and pounds 750 for threatening behaviour in April last year.
Morrison's stage act seemed to parody his off stage violence. As time went by he seemed to find it harder to distinguish between play acting and real life. Morrison was hailed as the future of British soul for "Return Of The Mack", which used the swing beat sound of American soul. Other hits - "Crazy", "Horny" and recently "Moan And Groan" - were said by one critic to have revealed his musical versatility, as well as a one-track mind.
He was born the son of a British soldier in West Germany, spent many of his formative years in Florida before moving back to Britain when he was 19.
Short in stature, he was always laden with gold jewellery and wore designer clothes and rarely travelled without bodyguards. His own management once dropped him on account of his bolshy attitude.
His lawyer concluded yesterday: "Some people can cope and some people cannot. Mr Morrison was one of those who cannot."
It was not sufficient defence to keep the singer out of prison. But it was certainly a concise statement of truth.
JUDGE CHRISTOPHER PITCHERS ON MORRISON
"It is quite clear that having found the order inconvenient you decided to use the power your position gave you to avoid doing any more of it. I regard it as showing an arrogant contempt for the order of the court."
"Like some other young men, having reached the pinnacle he has fallen very sharply to earth."
THE STAGE ACT
He brandished handcuffs, backed by female dancers clad as mini-skirted WPCs. At a Smash Hits ceremony he appeared on stage toting a fake gun and wearing a T-shirt under his fur coat bearing the slogan "Not guilty".
ON HIS TIME IN AMERICA
"When I was there, I learned about hunger and ambition."