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Statistical Release Crime and Justice Series: Scottish prison population projections: 2009-10 to 2018-19

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Recent trends

The prison population has been increasing steadily since the early 2000s, and the rate of increase has become more marked over the past four years. The overall increase in average daily population between 2007 and 2008 was 6.8 per cent, with some degree of levelling out during 2009 compared to the rapid increase during the latter part of 2008.(Table 2).

Table 2 Average daily population figures: January 2007 to October 2009

2007

2008

2009
(provisional from April)

2007 to 2008
% change

2008 to 2009
% change

Jan

7,070

7,384

7,591

4.4

2.8

Feb

7,265

7,639

7,765

5.2

1.6

Mar

7,327

7,691

7,962

5.0

3.5

Apr

7,214

7,655

8,120

6.1

6.1

May

7,176

7,591

8,090

5.8

6.6

June

7,218

7,681

8,163

6.4

6.3

July

7,256

7,797

8,142

7.5

4.4

Aug

7,406

7,978

8,092

7.7

1.4

Sep

7,489

8,124

8,055

8.5

-0.8

Oct

7,425

8,083

7,958

8.9

-1.6

Nov

7,353

8,029

9.2

Dec

7,279

7,762

6.6

Annual

7,290

7,784

7994 (provisional)

6.8

Seasonality

What is also notable is how seasonality has varied over the past four years. Population levels traditionally show a seasonal high in March-April which follows a marked dip over December-January (Chart 1). There also tends to be a lull over the summer months before the figures rise again. The seasonal lows reflect holiday periods and the reduced number of court sitting days.

Chart 1 Average daily prison population: January 2005 to October 2009

Chart 1 Average daily prison population: January 2005 to October 2009

In 2006, the population rose steadily until the autumn, despite the introduction of early release on home detention curfew for low risk prisoners in July. A similar pattern can be seen in 2009, with population levels remaining very high for the first half of the year. This is in contrast with 2008, where there were unprecedented increases during the last quarter of the year.

Prisoner type

While there has been an increase in numbers overall, the patterns of change have not been the same for all segments of the prison population (Chart 2). The increase in the long-term population (sentenced to four years or more) has been gradual over the years, from about 2,500 in 2000 to 3,000 in 2009.

The number of remand prisoners increased sharply during 2006 from about 1,200, stabilising at 1,600 in 2007 before increasing further during 2008. This is the main reason for the increased prison population in 2006 and one of the contributing factors to the high prison population in 2008.

However, the main driver for the record population levels seen so far during 2008 and 2009 are the numbers of short-term prisoners (sentenced to less than four years). These have increased steadily since 2007, from approximately 2,600 to 3,000, with the rate of increase accelerating markedly during 2008 and 2009 to reach 3,500.

Chart 2 Average daily prison population: January 2000 to October 2009

Chart 2 Average daily prison population: January 2000 to October 2009