Supplementary Prison Population Statistics 2019-20

An Experimental Statistics publication for Scotland.

Supplementary experimental prison population statistics covering the period 2009-10 to 2019-20 have been published by Scotland’s Chief Statistician.

The data indicates that the overall average daily prison population fluctuated over the ten years to 2019-20. Between 2009-10 and 2011-12, there was a general rising trend in the prison population. The population fell steadily thereafter but rose steeply between 2017-18 and 2019-20 from around 7,500 to almost 8,200, exceeding the previous peak (8,133) in 2011-12.

While the average daily population has risen, the number of individuals spending time in custody each year fell by around 15% between 2009-10 and 2019-20.

The data shows that people serving sentences for sexual offences account for a growing proportion of the average daily prison population, rising from 8% of the average sentenced population in 2009-10 to 16% in 2019-20. The average daily population serving sentences for ‘rape and attempted rape’ trebled between 2009-10 and 2019-20, from 213 to 640.

People serving sentences for violent offences consistently made up around one third of the average daily sentenced population between 2009-10 and 2019-20. Since 2009-10, ‘attempted murder and serious assault’ has been the most common violent offence. In 2019-20 the average population serving sentences for ‘attempted murder and serious assault’ rose 10% from 975 to 1,072. Meanwhile, the population serving sentences for drugs offences decreased by 36% between 2009-10 and 2019-20 from 993 to 637.

Between 2009-10 and 2019-20, the average daily population serving a main sentence of up to 1 year decreased by around 27%. However, the average prison population has risen across all other short and long term sentence groups.

Some sentence groups have seen sharp recent growth: the average population serving sentences between 4 and 10 years increased from 1,147 in 2017-18 to 1,318 in 2019-20. Others have seen more consistent growth, with the average population serving life sentences rising from 839 in 2009-10 to 948 in 2019-20, and those with an Order of Lifelong Restriction rising from an average of 57 to 185 over the same time period.

The proportion of sentenced individuals departing custody on conditional release decreased by around 60% between 2017-18 and 2019-20. Departures on license, parole, under Supervised Release Order or Home Detention Curfew, fell from between 20-24% of all sentenced departures during 2010-11 to 2017-18 to just 11% in 2019-20.

Around 79% of arrivals to custody in 2019-20 were to the remand population. Arrivals to remand account for the majority of arrivals to custody in each year from 2009-10 to 2019-20. 

A high volume of custodial journeys beginning in remand result in an individual departing custody directly from remand: 6,544 in 2019-20, or 57% of all completed custodial journeys that began in remand. These remand journeys are usually short, averaging 21 days in 2019-20.

Longer periods on remand are associated with individuals transitioning from remand into the sentenced population, and their duration has increased from 2009-10 to 2019-20. Stays on remand of more than 120 days accounted for around 6% of such journeys in 2009-10, rising to around 17% of such journeys in 2019-20. The increase in length of time on remand has been most pronounced since 2017-18.

The data also shows that population trends vary by age and gender. The overall decrease in the number of individuals spending time in custody over the period has been driven almost entirely by a reduction in young people and younger adults. For individuals aged 30 or over there has been either observable stability or increases in the numbers held in custody as sentenced or on remand.

Women were much less likely than men to be serving a custodial sentence for a sexual offence. In 2019-20, only 1% of the women’s average daily sentenced population were serving a sentence for a sexual offence compared to 17% of the men’s population. A greater proportion of the women’s average daily sentenced population were serving sentences for violent offences (40% compared to 36% of the men’s population) and crimes of dishonesty (17% compared to 9%) in 2019-20.

In 2019-20, similar proportions of the women’s and men’s average daily sentenced populations were serving life sentences, at 16% and 14% respectively. However, no women served a sentence with an Order of Lifelong Restriction in 2019-20.

Overall, women were more likely than men to be serving a short custodial sentence. Only 12% of the women’s average daily sentenced population were serving determinate sentences of more than 4 years in 2019-20, compared to 24% of men.


These experimental statistics include additional analyses of the legal statuses, index offences and the sentences being served by individuals in custody in Scotland between 2009-10 to 2019-20.


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