Scottish Prison Population Statistics 2019-20

An Official Statistics publication for Scotland.

The average daily prison population rose sharply in 2018-19 and 2019-20 despite fewer people being imprisoned, according to Official Statistics published by the Chief Statistician today.

Following several years of steady decline, the average daily population in Scotland’s prisons rose from 7,464 in 2017-18 to 8,195 in 2019-20.

A total of 17,294 individuals experienced imprisonment for all or part of 2019-20 – a fall of around 15% since 2010-11 when the figure was 20,407.

While the number of people imprisoned has fallen, individuals are spending longer periods in custody – the latter determined by decisions made by the court as to the use and length of custodial sentences and decisions made by the Parole Board when an individual is considered for parole or release on life licence in the case of those serving indeterminate sentences.

The average length of time spent in custody has increased since 2010-11, with the proportion of individuals leaving prison having spent a year or more in custody rising from 7% to 10%, and the proportion leaving after spending up to 3 months in custody falling from 70% to 58%.

The rise in the prison population is due to growth in the population of adult men only. The average number of women in prison has remained broadly stable since 2013-14 (around 400) and the average number of young offenders (those under 21 years) continues a downward trend, falling from 865 in 2010-11 to 326 in 2019-20.

Other findings in the publication, Scottish Prison Population Statistics 2019-20, show that the experience of imprisonment is not equal across the population:

  • Men are more likely to experience imprisonment than women, with around 16,000 of the 17,294 individuals experiencing imprisonment in 2019-20 identified as men.
  • Individuals from the 10% most deprived areas are over-represented in prison arrivals by a factor of three – a finding consistent across the last decade.
  • The proportion of individuals arriving in prison who report having no fixed abode has increased over the past decade, from 4.4% to 7.5%.
  • The average age of those imprisoned has increased from 31.8 years in 2010-11 to 35.9 years in 2019-20, and the proportion who are aged 55 or over has more than doubled in the last decade from 3.3% to 7%.
  • The overwhelming majority of individuals experiencing imprisonment identify as ‘White’, with the proportion of individuals experiencing imprisonment from a minority ethnic group being between 3.7% and 4.3% over the last 10 years.
  • The imprisonment rate for people who identify as African, Caribbean or Black (6.1 to 10.2 per 1,000), or from ‘Other ethnic’ groups (5.6 to 9.0 per 1,000), is significantly higher than for people who identify as White (3.7 to 3.9 per 1,000).

Other findings show that the proportion of prisoners with some armed forces service history increased to above 3% in 2015-16 and was 3.2% in 2019-20, while between 8% and 10% of people who spent any time in prison over the past 10 years self-identified as being disabled.


Read the full statistical publication, Scottish Prison Population Statistics, 2019-20

No single factor can explain why changes in the prison population have occurred. Previous analyses by Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services suggest that legislative and policy changes across the justice system, historical improvements in crime clear-up and conviction rates, and changes in the nature of offending coming to the attention of the justice system have a combined impact on the use of imprisonment and the prison population.

Further information about trends in the use of custodial sentences can be read in the previously published National Statistics publication, Criminal Proceedings in Scotland: 2018-2019.

Official statistics are produced by professionally independent statistical staff. Read more information on the standards of official statistics in Scotland.


Media enquiries

Back to top