3 Overview of Scottish Prison Population and Court Demand Trends
Figure 1 shows that since 2020 there have been substantial changes to the total, remand, and sentenced populations during and after the pandemic. The prison population was relatively stable (within the range 7,350 to 7,650) from September 2020 until late 2022. Subsequently it rose substantially; between 1st Feb 2023 and 1st October 2023 it increased by over 500 from 7,400 to almost 7,950. The remand population increased at the beginning of 2022, reaching a high of nearly 2,300 on 1st February 2022, then decreased gradually (other than around December 2022/January 2023), reaching just over 2,100 on 1st April 2023. Between April and May 2023 the remand population increased, to just over 2,250 on 1st June 2023. From June the remand population remained relatively stable, and was around 2,200 on 1st October 2023. The sentenced population decreased gradually throughout 2022, from around 5,350 in January 2022 to around 5,250 in December 2022. The sentenced population has increased during 2023 from 5,250 on January 1st 2023 to 5,750 on October 1st 2023.
Growth in the sentenced prison population during 2023 varies by sentence length, as shown in the chart below. The population serving sentences of less than or equal to one year increased in the first months of 2023; although more recently that population has started to fall. The population serving sentences of one to four years has increased during 2023. The population serving overall sentences of more than four years, as well as those serving Orders of Lifelong Restriction, have seen continuous increases over a longer period and now exceed pre-pandemic levels. The population serving life sentences has seen a small gradual decline since 2020 (which has continued in 2023).
The growth in the total prison population has been driven by a rise in both remand and sentenced arrivals to custody4. The rate of remand arrivals is influenced by the level of new cases registered and cases concluded in Scottish Courts . The level of court throughput (case conclusions) also has implications for the flow into the sentenced population. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) frequently publish information on the level of registrations and conclusions across all courts; the charts below show registrations and conclusions for High Court, Sheriff Court Solemn and Sheriff Court Summary. Figure 3 shows the number of High Court indictment registrations between 2014/15 Q1 and 2022/23 Q1. There were 939 High Court indictments in 2022/23, which was an increase of 26% compared to 745 in 2021/22. As shown in figure 4 the introduction of a further 2 additional High Court trial rooms in April 2023 has coincided with the highest level of conclusions in any quarter since at least 2014/15 Q1. Similarly, as shown in figure 6, following the introduction of 6 further Sheriff Court Solemn trial courts from April 2023 conclusions in 2023/24 Q1 were elevated to become higher than at any time since at least 2014/15 Q1. Case registrations (see figure 5) in Sheriff Solemn have also been high recently; the level in 2023/24 Q1 of over 1,900 indictments was the highest of any 3 month period since at least 2014/15 Q1.
The level of complaints registered in Sheriff Summary Courts has been increasing in recent quarters (see figure 7), and was at its highest level in 2023/24 Q1 since 2020/21 Q2. At 15,184, the number of Sheriff Summary complaint conclusions (see figure 8) was just over 10% lower in 2023/24 Q1 than 2022/23 Q1 (16,970).
Taking all courts into consideration case registrations and throughput have contributed to an elevated level of remand and sentenced arrivals in the early part of 2023/24.
SCTS monthly management information shows that the national total trials scheduled across all criminal courts increased steeply, due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, by around 140% from 18,100 in April 2020 to over 43,600 at its peak in January 2022. By the end of March 2023 it had fallen to less than 28,000. Recently, the number of outstanding trials in High Court (see figure 9) decreased by 5% from 687 to 654 during 2023/24 Q1. Similarly, the number of Sheriff Solemn outstanding trials (figure 10) decreased 7% during 2023/24 Q1. As figure 11 shows, the number of Sheriff Summary trials outstanding increased slightly between the end of 2022/23 Q3 and the end of 2023/24 Q1.
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