Criminal proceedings in Scotland 2016-17: statistics

Statistics on criminal proceedings concluded in Scottish courts and alternatives to prosecution, issued by the police and by the Crown Office.

This document is part of a collection

9. Custodial Sentences

( Tables 7, 8a-c, 9 and 10a-d)

Custodial sentences comprise convicted people who are sent to prison or a young offenders institution. The number of custodial sentences fell by eight per cent (from 13,766 in 2015-16 to 12,690 in 2016-17), the same percentage decrease as seen in the overall number of convictions. Levels of custodial sentences have generally declined since the peak of 16,946 custodial sentences in 2008-09 and are now 25% below that level. Custodial sentences represented 14% of all convictions in 2016-17. This proportion has remained relatively stable over the last ten years fluctuating between 12 and 15%.

Extended sentences and Supervised Release Orders

This is the second year that extended sentences and supervised release orders have been included in this publication. These sentences are for offenders who have served time in prison but have an additional post-release supervision period attached to their sentence (see Annex D for more details). Inclusion of these sentences complements the statistics on Orders for Lifelong Restriction (orders for post custodial supervision of high-risk violent and sexual offenders).

Please note that we do not have information on the length of the supervision period on our dataset, just the length of the custodial part of the sentence. There are more details in Annex B on how this change impacts our statistics as a whole.

Length of custodial sentences

Courts will consider the full facts and circumstances of a case before deciding an appropriate sentence in a given case. This includes whether or not the offender has been convicted before and whether there are any other mitigating circumstances. These statistics do not take into account the factors influencing the sentencing decisions.

All of the 30 people issued life sentences in 2016-17 received these for murder. When a court imposes a life sentence, a minimum period in custody, called the "punishment part" is set by the court before the prisoner can be considered for release on licence by the parole board. "On licence" means that a life prisoner is subject to recall to prison if they breach the terms of their release in their lifetime.

Average custodial sentence

Information on the minimum custodial period of a life sentence is not available from the criminal proceedings database, therefore it is not possible to incorporate these sentences into the average sentence length. The average length of custodial sentences for all crimes, excluding life sentences, in 2016-17 was around 10 months (313 days), which is 20 days (seven per cent) longer than in 2015-16 (293 days). Over the longer term, some fluctuations aside, there has been a general upward trend in sentence length, and they are now 26% longer than in 2007/08 (249 days).

Categories of custodial sentence length

The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 commenced in February 2011 and introduced a presumption against short sentences (3 months or less). This presumption states that a court must not pass a sentence of imprisonment for a term of 3 months or less unless it considers that no other method of dealing with the person is appropriate.

Chart 8 illustrates patterns of custodial sentence length by specific categories. In 2007-08 the most common length was " up to 3 months" (8,414 people), which made up 50% of custodial sentences. Over the ten-year period, levels have dropped with sentences of " up to 3 months" making up 28% of custodial sentences in 2016-17. Please note that these sentences started to fall before the presumption was introduced.

Chart 8: Length of Custodial Sentences, 2007-08 to 2016-17

Chart 8: Length of Custodial Sentences, 2007-08 to 2016-17

Other patterns show that:

  • Custodial sentences of " over 3 months to 6 months" accounted for 25% of custodial sentences in 2007-08 (4,250 people) and rose to 39% (6,153 people) by 2011-12. 35% of sentences were between 3 and 6 months long in 2016-17.
  • Sentences of " over 6 months to 1 year" made up 10% of all sentences in 2007-08 (1,662 people), rising to 17% by 2016-17 (2,150 people);
  • Similarly the share of custodial sentences " over one year to 2 years" has also been increasing. They made up seven per cent in 2007-08 (1,188 people), rising to 11% by 2016-17 (1,427 people); and
  • The proportion of custodial sentences of " 2 years to under 4 years" and " 4 years and over" the longest categories of custodial sentence, have remained broadly constant over the last ten years, at around five and four per cent of all custodies respectively.


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