Prison statistics and population projections Scotland: 2011-12

This publication shows data up to 2011-12 on Scottish prison population levels and characteristics, receptions to/liberations from Scottish prisons, and international comparisons. This year it includes prison population projections to 2020-21 which were previously published separately, as well as additional background information and analyses.

This document is part of a collection

5. Notes and definitions

Coverage and data collection

52. Before April 1996, population and reception information was collected from the penal establishments via monthly manual statistical returns. In April 1996, a computerised Prisoner Records System (PRS) was introduced by the Scottish Prison Service to enable on-line recording of information on individual prisoners.

53. In July 2004, an improved computerised information system (PR2) was introduced. Due to the way some information is recorded on the new system, some of the tables published in earlier bulletins cannot be reproduced.

54. There are currently 16 penal establishments in Scotland. In addition, there are nine legalised police cells which could be used to detain prisoners. These tend to be located in more rural areas and are primarily used to detain prisoners temporarily for court attendance.

55. There is one dedicated young offender institution in Polmont and one young offender institution incorporated in the main prison at Cornton Vale. Cornton Vale continues to be the only all female establishment in the Scottish Prison Service estate. Some persons aged 21 or over may be received into young offender institutions and a small number of young offenders under 21 may be held in adult prisoners if warranted by special circumstances, such as proximity to courts.

Counting conventions

56. Prison receptions provide a useful indication of flows through the prison service but are not equivalent to persons received. If a person enters prison on remand or having been sentenced by one court, this is counted as one reception. Where a person subsequently receives a custodial sentence after a period on remand or while serving another custodial sentence, this constitutes a further reception. If several custodial sentences are imposed on the same person by two or more courts in one day, this counts as several receptions.

57, Receptions are the main unit of analysis as this allows highly disaggregated analyses by type of custody and crime type. Individuals may enter the prison system more than once on different types of custody (remand or sentenced) and charged with different crimes, so it is difficult to carry out meaningful disaggregated analyses at individual level on a routine basis as the most appropriate analysis will depend on the specific nature of the enquiry. To give indicative figures of how these two measures relate to each other, in 2010-11 there were about 36,000 receptions involving some 20,500 individuals. This relationship will depend on a range of factors, such as the extent to which charges are 'rolled up' and result in one sentence, or individuals subject to cases in different courts.

58. Admissions represent another measure of flow which reflects the number of separate episodes in custody. This may be useful in some cases, for instance assessing the number and type of induction procedures required, and costs associated with this process. Again, it is difficult to use admissions as a standard basis for analysis as the appropriate use will vary with the particular issue under consideration.

59. Direct sentenced prison receptions (this excludes receptions for fine default and recalls from supervision or licence) are counted differently from custodial court disposals published in the Scottish Government publication Criminal proceedings in Scotland. Most of this difference can be explained by the fact that when a person is given consecutive custodial sentences for several separate sets of charges from the same court on the same day, this is counted as two custodial sentences in the court statistics, but only one direct sentenced reception. The criminal proceedings publication is therefore the best information source for trends in sentencing as it better reflects actual sentencing practice.

60. The table below illustrates the difference between direct sentenced prison receptions and custodial court disposals based on the standard counting convention for each data collection, and gives an estimate of the equivalent court-derived 'receptions' using the same counting convention as prison statistics.

Comparison of direct sentenced prison receptions to court derived 'receptions': Scotland

  2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11
Custodial court disposals 15,082 16,758 16,761 16,938 15,788 15,268
Court derived 'receptions' 11,536 12,981 13,023 13,429 12,571 12,068
Direct sentenced receptions 12,921 13,992 14,203 14,638 14,051 13,170

Sources: Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services courts proceedings database and prisons data.

Notes: Due to a change in recording for 2007-08, courts data exclude cases where the main charge is breach of social work order. Court-derived 'receptions' have been estimated by excluding multiple sets of charges on the same day.

61. Only the main crime or offence is used for persons convicted of more than one criminal act. The main crime or offence is the most serious, assumed to be that for which the longest sentence was imposed. Where sentences are to be served consecutively, the length of the sentence recorded is the sum of the sentences. For concurrent sentences, the period of the longest sentence is given. These sentences represent the period which would be served in the absence of any early release, such as Home Detention Curfew or parole.

Fine default

62. From 1996-97, fine default information includes a separate category of non-offence (non-offence receptions are contempt of court and breach of a supervised attendance order). These receptions are excluded from any calculation of average fine amount.

63. Receptions for compensation order default are included in the fine default figures as these receptions are not separately identifiable from the recorded data.

Unruly certificates

64. Before 2010, children could be remanded in custody on an 'unruly certificate' under Sections 24 and 297 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975. This is where a child over the age of 14 appears before a court charged with a crime or offence and the court considers that release on bail or detention by a local authority is not appropriate because of the child's unruly character. The child may then be detained in the prison system on the authority of the court. The unruly certificate arrangements apply to children aged over 14 and, normally, under 16, although an upper age limit of 18 applies where a child is under a supervision requirement from a children's hearing.

65. These sections of legislation were repealed through the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010.

Home detention curfew

66. From July 2006, prisoners became eligible for early release from custody on home detention curfew (HDC). The provisions for HDC are contained in the Management of Offenders etc (Scotland) Act 2005. This allows short term prisoners assessed as presenting a low risk of reoffending, to be released on licence between two weeks and four months early. The maximum period was extended to six months in April 2008, and the scheme extended to certain categories of long-term prisoners. Offenders are subject to electronically monitored restrictions on their movements for up to 12 hours per day for the remainder of their sentence.

Supervision level

67. This is the internal assessment of risk in custody used by the Scottish Prison Service. Prior to April 2002, there were four security categories which could be assigned to a prisoner, from category A, the highest security level, to category D the lowest. In April 2002, a new prisoner supervision system, specifically designed to assist the effective management of prisoners and to enhance public safety, was implemented giving supervision levels of High/Medium/Low.

Community Justice Authorities

68. The Management of Offenders etc. (Scotland) Act 2005 established new Community Justice Authorities (CJAs) to create a more coherent and flexible system of offender management through improved partnership working between the different agencies involved in the criminal justice system.

CJA structure


Dundee City
Perth and Kinross

South West Scotland

Dumfries and Galloway
East Ayrshire
North Ayrshire
South Ayrshire

Fife and Forth Valley



Glasgow City


Aberdeen City
Eilean Siar
Orkney Islands
Shetland Islands

Lothian and Borders

East Lothian
Scottish Borders
West Lothian


North Lanarkshire
South Lanarkshire

Northern Strathclyde

Argyll and Bute
East Dunbartonshire

West Dunbartonshire

Classification of crimes/offences

69. The classification of crimes and offences used by the Scottish Government for criminal statistics contains approximately 350 codes. The detailed offence information contained on the warrants on the Prisoner Records system is mapped to the relevant classification code using the following classification.



(Also referred to as Violence)


Comprises murder and culpable homicide (including the statutory crimes of causing death by dangerous driving or causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs).

Serious assault and attempted murder

Referred for short in the text as "serious assault".


Includes offences involving intent to rob.


Includes threats, extortion and cruel and unnatural treatment of children.


(Also referred to as Indecency).

Rape & attempted rape

Sexual assault

Includes, contact sexual assault (13-15 yr old or adult 16+), other sexually coercive conduct (adult 16+), sexual offences against children under 13, sexual activity with children aged 13-15, other sexual offences involving children aged 13-15, and lewd and libidinous practices



Includes incest, unnatural crimes, public indecency, sexual exposure, procuration and other sexual offences


(Also referred to as Dishonesty)


Includes business as well as domestic premises.

Theft by opening a lockfast place

Theft of/from a motor vehicle


Other theft

Includes theft of pedal cycles.


Includes statutory fraud, except social security benefit fraud.


Includes forgery, reset and embezzlement.




Includes malicious mischief, vandalism and reckless conduct with firearms.


Crimes against public justice

Includes perjury, contempt of court, bail offences and failing to appear at court.

Handling an offensive weapon

Comprises carrying offensive weapons, restriction of offensive weapons legislation. (This crime category was previously included under the non-sexual crimes of violence group.)


Includes importation, possession and supply of controlled drugs.


Includes conspiracy and explosives offences.



Common assault

Also sometimes termed petty or minor assault

Breach of the peace



Includes offences against local legislation, Revenue and Excise Acts, Licensing Acts, Wireless Telegraphy Acts / Communication Acts.


Dangerous and careless driving

Prior to 1992 this was known as "reckless and careless driving".

Driving under the influence

Comprises driving or in charge of motor vehicle while unfit through drink or drugs, blood alcohol content above limit and failing to provide breath, blood or urine specimens.


Includes the small number of motorway and clearway offences, as these are mostly speeding-related.

Unlawful use of vehicle

Comprises driving while disqualified, without a licence, insurance, test certificate, vehicle tax and registration and identification offences.

Vehicle defect offences

Comprises construction and use and lighting offences.


Includes parking, record of work offences, neglect of traffic directions, failing to stop after accident and mobile phone offences.

70. This classification now includes revised categories for crimes of indecency due to implementation of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 in December 2010 (see Sexual Offences Act 2009 - a note on comparability of data for further details). This change has not yet been fully implemented for the current publication, and crimes previously classified as lewd and libidinous practices have been included in the category of other in the interim.

71. During 2011-12, some crimes recorded in the Scottish Government prisons statistics were reclassified to bring them into line with the crime code classification used in Scottish Government criminal proceedings statistics. This resulted in some changes from previous figures, and the following table provides an indication of scale of the difference for the categories most affected. The reclassification does not appear to have affected the overall trends to any great extent.

Percentage difference between revised and original figures for 2010-11

Average daily population Receptions
Original figure Revised figure % change Original figure Revised figure % change
Serious assault/attempted murder 1,351 1,244 -8 1,086 823 -24
Crimes against public justice 231 305 32 1,011 1,097 9
Handling offensive weapons 428 355 -17 884 797 -10
Common assault 606 655 8 1,887 2,088 11



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