Prison population: position paper

Scottish Government action to address the increase in prisoner numbers. Includes information on the drivers of the prison population and country comparisons.

Comparisons with other countries

Other countries are also dealing with rising prison populations. The latest statistics show that the prison population in England and Wales is rising. On 31 March 2024 it was 87,869, around 4,900 higher – 6% higher than it was on 31 March 2020. The remand population has reached a record high of 16,458, which represents 19%of the total prison population, and an increase of 13% from 31 March 2023.

In response the UK Government is taking a number of actions for England and Wales, including legislating for a presumption against short sentences, continuing to significantly extend the use of compassionate release, and expanding provision facilitating the early removal of foreign nationals (this is a reserved matter and will apply across the UK). The UK Government have used their powers on early release to release individuals 18 days early from October, which increased to around 35 in march and is reported to rise to 70 days from this month. It has also been reported that police cells are being use (Operation Safeguarding), as well as delaying certain Court appearances (Operation Early Dawn).

According to the latest full report on Prison Populations (2022) by the Council of Europe’s Annual Penal Statistics, sixteen countries recently experienced substantial annual increases in their prison populations (percentage increase):

  • Slovenia (23)
  • Finland (15)
  • France (15)
  • Northern Ireland (13)
  • Montenegro (12)
  • Croatia (10)
  • Turkey (9.2)
  • Sweden (8.2)
  • Albania (8.2)
  • Hungary (7.9)
  • Armenia (7.9)
  • Latvia (7.3)
  • Romania (6.5)
  • Poland (6.1)
  • North Macedonia (5.8)
  • Denmark (5.5)

Scotland saw a 1.1% increase over the same period.

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