An Official Statistics Publication for Scotland 16 November 2022.
Justice system responses to Covid related public health measures continued to impact the Scottish prison population in 2021-22 according to statistics published by the Chief Statistician today.
Overall prison population levels rose by just 1% on 2020-21 figures, remaining stable at just over 7,500 in 2021-22. However the balance between the sentenced and remand populations continued to shift.
The average daily remand population increased by around 14% in 2021-22 (from 1,634 in 2020-21 to 1,862), while the average daily sentenced population remained broadly stable (-1% from 5,658 to 5,597). These changes mean that a greater proportion of the prison population was held on remand than in previous years. On the average day in 2021-22, around 25% of the prison population were held on remand – the largest proportion on remand on record.
Growth in the average daily remand population between 2020-21 and 2021-22 only occurred in three of the index (alleged) offence groups – Group 1 ‘Violence’ +9% to 989, Group 2 ‘Sexual crimes’ +23% to 209, and Group 5 ‘Crimes against society’ +34% to 386. Around 60% of the average daily remand population in 2021-22 were accused of index Group 1 ‘Violence’ and 2 ‘Sexual crimes’ offences. A further 21% were accused of Group 5 ‘Crimes against society’ offences.
Time spent on remand continued to increase in 2021-22. For those departing custody from remand, the median duration remained the same as 2020-21 (22 days in both years). However, while in 2020-21 90% of remand departures had occurred with 109 days, in 2021-22 this had risen to 139 days. This continues an observed sharp increase from 2017-18, when 90% of remand departures occurred within 63 days.
The time to transition from the remand to the sentenced population also continued to increase in 2021-22. The median number of days to transition was 57 in 2021-22, compared to 55 in 2020-21 and 36 in 2019-20. In 2019-20 and 2020-21, 90% of transitions occurred within 145 days and 175 days respectively. In 2021-22 this had risen such that 90% of transitions occurred within 262 days.
The index offence profile of the average daily sentenced population continued to change in 2021-22. The sentenced population with index offences in Groups 1 ‘Violence’, 2 ‘Sexual crimes’ and 6 ‘Anti-social offences’ increased from 2020-21, driven by increases in common assault (+12% to 541), rape and attempted rape (+8% to 721), and threatening and abusive behaviour (+12% to 204). Populations with index offences in the other groups fell slightly or remained stable over the same period.
The proportion of the average daily sentenced population with an index offence in Group 1 (Violence) or 2 (Sexual crimes) rose to 65% in 2021-22 (+2%pts from 2020-21), and the proportion serving an index sentence of less than 4 years remains below pre-pandemic levels (45% in 2021-22 compared to 53% in 2019-20).
The average daily population of women in prison continued to fall in 2021-22 (-5% from 298 in 2020-21 to 282), while the average daily population of men increased (+3% to 7,220). The fall in the women’s population is driven by a 7% reduction in the sentenced population (from 213 in 2020-21 to 198 in 2021-22). The population of women on remand remained stable between 2020-21 and 2021-22. The combined effect is an increase in the proportion of women on remand on the average day, rising from 28% in 2020-21 to 30% in 2021-22.
The population of young people (under 21) in custody also continued to fall overall, from 215 in 2020-21 to 188 in 2021-22. This change was a result in a 19% reduction in the sentenced population, while average numbers on remand each day fell only slightly. This led to an increase in the proportion of young people on remand, from 44% in 2020-21 to 48% in 2021-22.
Compliance with public health measures during the pandemic influenced operations across the criminal justice system. The Lord Advocate issued revised guidelines on the use of police custody, and the courts had to close for extended periods or operate at reduced capacity. Prison establishments had to ensure sufficient space to allow prisoners to observe public health measures.
The impact of justice system responses to public health measures in 2020-22 included: a decreased volume of custody cases reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and an increased volume of undertakings reports; a reduced likelihood of an accused being remanded; a reduced volume of concluded cases in courts, with subsequent reduction in custodial sentences issued and growth in the trial backlog; and an agreement in the initial stages of the pandemic response to early release of eligible short term sentenced prisoners. Combined, these shifts impacted both the in-flows to custody and the out-flows from custody.
As the recently published National Statistics on Criminal Proceedings in Scotland 2020-21 have already shown, reduced court capacity over the pandemic had significant impacts on volumes of court proceedings, the mix of cases able to proceed in court, and associated sentencing outcomes. The prison population figures released today reflect these and other Covid impacts on the justice system.
See also the Coronavirus (COVID-19): Justice Analytical Services data report, the Sheriff Courts - remand and bail outcomes: occasional paper, and the SPS COVID-19 Information Hub, for more information and analysis on the impacts of Covid on the justice system.
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