Reconviction Rates in Scotland: 2009-10 Offender Cohort
Analysis of one year reconviction rates for the cohort of offenders released from a custodial sentence or receiving a non-custodial disposal in 2009-10
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12.1 The effect of pseudo reconvictions
12.1.1 Pseudo reconvictions are convictions which occur after the index conviction, but relate to offences committed prior to the index conviction. They can arise in cases where there are several sets of proceedings in train against an individual for offences committed on a range of dates. They could potentially have the following effects:
- In theory they may exaggerate the rate of “real” reconvictions to some extent;
- They will also complicate comparisons between reconviction rates for different types of disposal as they will tend to have less impact on the reconviction rates for offenders who are discharged from a long custodial sentence compared to those given non-custodial sentences; and
- They will also tend to be more significant when considering reconviction rates for groups of offenders with a relatively high frequency of offending, such as younger offenders, or those engaged in acquisitive crime.
12.1.2 However, excluding pseudo reconvictions will not necessarily result in an improved estimate of the reconviction rate, unless one also addresses the issue of offences committed during the follow-up period, but which have a conviction date outwith this period and are therefore currently excluded from the calculation. Excluding both cases is likely to result in a downward bias of the estimate, and we are currently assessing the feasibility of moving to a reconviction indicator based on proven reoffending, similar to the approach adopted by the Ministry of Justice (see Appendix C in Adult re-convictions: results from the 2009 cohort (England and Wales) for further details of this methodology). One year and two year reconviction frequency rates and reconviction without pseudo reconvictions are shown in previous publications for the purposes of illustration, although these figures should be treated with caution.
12.2 Background and methodology
The Scottish Offenders Index (SOI) currently contains data on 450,000 offenders and 1,700,000 convictions since SOI records began in 1989. According to earlier analyses of this dataset, 84 per cent of offenders were male. Fifty-seven per cent of convictions recorded on the SOI are accounted for by 15 per cent of offenders who each had 6 or more convictions. Only 17 per cent of male offenders and 6 per cent of female offenders present on the SOI had received one or more custodial convictions since 1989, whereas 80 per cent of males and 66 per cent of females had received more than one fine or other monetary penalty.
The following terminology is applied throughout the bulletin:
Cohort - all offenders in any one year who received a caution / non-custodial conviction / non-court disposal, or were released from a custodial sentence.
Index conviction - in the case of a court disposal, the conviction that resulted in a non-custodial sentence being imposed or the one which had originally led to a custodial sentence being served. In the case of a non-court disposal, the police or COPFS disposal imposed.
Relevant date of the index conviction - in the case of a court disposal, the sentence date for non-custodial sentences or the estimated date of discharge from custody for custodial convictions.
Pseudo reconviction - convictions which occur after the index conviction, but relate to offences committed prior to the index conviction.
Index disposal - the type of sentence imposed in the index conviction.
Index crime - the main offence for which the offender was convicted.
Previous convictions - convictions preceding the index convictions.
Reconvictions - convictions after the relevant date of the index conviction.
Custodial reconviction - that which results in a custodial sentence being imposed.
Reconviction frequency rate - the average number of reconvictions within a specified follow up period from the date of the index conviction per 100 offenders. Unless stated otherwise the reconviction frequency rates that are quoted in this bulletin are for a follow-up period of one year.
Reconviction rate - in the case of a court disposal, the percentage of offenders with index convictions in the cohort who were reconvicted one or more times within a specified follow up period from the relevant date of the index conviction. Unless stated otherwise the reconviction rates that are quoted in this bulletin are for a follow-up period of one year. Note: In the case of a non-court disposal, this is the percentage of individuals who received a further non-court disposal within a specified follow up period from the relevant date of the index conviction.
12.2.2 Information on convictions and reconvictions is not the same thing as information on offending and reoffending, or recidivism. Not all offences which are committed are reported to the police, while some of those that are reported and recorded do not result in an offender being identified, charged and a report being sent to the Procurator Fiscal. For cases which are reported to the Procurator Fiscal, it may be decided to take no proceedings or to employ some alternative to prosecution such as a warning letter or a fiscal fine. Where persons are prosecuted, the proceedings may end up being dropped, e.g. witnesses fail to turn up, or accused is acquitted. Convictions and reconvictions are therefore a subset of actual offending and reoffending, and reconviction rates only a proxy measure of reoffending rates.
12.2.3 The Scottish Prison Service has previously published annual return to custody information by gender, type of offender, age of offender, type of offence, length of time in prison prior to release and the time between release and subsequent return for those offenders who return to prison within the follow up period. This information can be accessed via their website at www.sps.gov.uk
12.3.1 Information presented in this bulletin is based on data held in the SOI, which is in turn derived from information held on the Criminal History System (CHS) at the Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA). It currently contains a record of criminal proceedings against individuals (excluding companies) in Scottish courts as well as information on non-court disposals. The data currently covers all convictions where sentence was imposed in the period beginning 1989 and the main offence involved was a crime in Groups 1-5 of the Scottish Government’s classification of crimes and offences or the offences of common assault, breach of the peace, racially aggravated harassment or conduct, miscellaneous firearms offences and social security offences. Groups 1-5 of the Scottish Government’s classification covers non-sexual crimes of violence, crimes of indecency, crimes involving dishonesty, fire-raising and vandalism, and other crimes.
12.3.2 The figures in the bulletin have been derived from administrative IT systems which, as with any large scale recording system, are subject to possible errors with data entry and processing. The CHS is regularly updated so that further analysis at a later date will generate revised figures (as shown in the table below). The extent of error or omitted records on the CHS is difficult to estimate because it is a unique data-source. As a result, there is not always an obvious source of data to provide a baseline from which to assess data quality.
Revisions to Reconviction Rates
|1st revision of
|2nd revision of
|3rd revision of
* These figures were not initially published, however it is possible to determine their magnitude retrospectively.
12.3.3 The CHS is not designed for statistical purposes. It is dependent on receiving timely information from the courts and police force records offices and it should be noted that some types of outcome, such as acquittals, are removed from the system after a prescribed length of time. A pending case on the CHS is updated in a timely manner but there are occasions when a slight delay may happen. Recording delays of this sort generally affect High Court disposals relatively more than those for other types of court. The figures provided in this bulletin reflect the details of court proceedings as made available to and recorded at SPSA, and as supplied to the Scottish Government by the end of August 2011 to allow later convictions for 2010-11 to be captured on the CHS.
12.3.4 Each record on the SOI database includes information on the sex and age of the offender, the dates of conviction and sentence, the main offence involved and details of the sentence imposed. Information is also available on any offences which were additional to the main offence involved. Each offender has a unique reference number, which allows individual convictions for that offender to be linked together (The SOI is a statistical database and personal information on offenders is not held).
12.3.5 While virtually all convictions since 1989, for crimes listed in section 12.3.1, are covered by the SOI, other types of conviction are not. These include convictions for motor vehicle and most minor statutory and common law offences, convictions in courts outwith Scotland, convictions prior to 1989, and any relevant convictions not recorded by SPSA by the end of August 2011.
12.3.6 All but the most serious offences alleged to have been committed by children under the age of 16 are generally dealt with by the children’s hearings system. The SOI does not currently hold information on offenders’ juvenile offending history.
12.3.7 The method described in section 12.4.10 cannot be used to accurately identify the release date for offenders serving life sentences or, in some instances, very lengthy determinate sentences. This category of offender will therefore not have been available for possible selection for the set of index convictions in each cohort year. However, the number of offenders involved is relatively small (only around 50 offenders receive such sentences each year) and so will not affect the analysis presented in this bulletin significantly. Separate research evidence (Life Sentence Prisoners in Scotland, Scottish Office, Machin et al, 1999) shows that just over a quarter of the 491 life sentence prisoners released on licence were reconvicted.
12.4 Counting rules, data definitions and notation
12.4.1 All but the most serious offences alleged to have been committed by children under the age of 16 are generally dealt with by the children’s hearings system. The SOI does not currently hold information on offenders’ juvenile offending history.
12.4.2 If more than one set of court proceedings against an offender is disposed of on the same day, then each occasion will be counted as a separate conviction record in the SOI collection of reconvictions.
12.4.3 Generally only the initial court sentence is included in the statistics on convictions, so that, for example, a person fined is regarded as fined even if he or she subsequently goes to prison in default of payment. Similarly, the offenders released from prison who are included in the analysis in this bulletin will only include those directly sentenced to prison, i.e. persons released after imprisonment for fine default are excluded. Also, no account is taken of the outcome of appeals, or of interim decisions such as deferral of sentence.
12.4.4 Where a person is convicted for more than one charge, then it is the main offence which is recorded in the SOI. The main offence is taken to be the charge receiving the severest penalty. If more than one charge receives the same (or a combined) penalty, then the main offence is the one judged to be the most serious based on the Scottish Government’s classification of crimes and offences. In the analysis of reconvictions presented in this bulletin, where an offender was sentenced for a bail-related offence (such as “failure to appear”) and other offences on the same day, then the most serious of the latter is taken as being the main offence (even where the bail offence had attracted the heaviest penalty).
12.4.5 The police record very detailed information on statutory offences but this does not always correspond exactly to the Scottish Government classification of crimes and offences. The most important example in numerical terms is an offence under Section 41(1)(a) of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967. This offence relates to "any person who assaults, resists, obstructs, molests or hinders a constable". Scottish Government classification divides this into 3 categories - resisting arrest, serious assault and simple assault, but this distinction is not made by the courts. The majority of such cases are thought to have been classed as common assault, and all the offences under this subsection have been so classified from 1988 onwards. Only a minimal number of cases are affected by other instances of this type of problem.
12.4.6 In order to analyse reconvictions, a decision has to be made as to which of an individual's convictions in a series is to be taken as a reference point, or index conviction. That is, the conviction before which all convictions are counted as previous convictions, and after which are counted as reconvictions. In this bulletin, the rule for choosing the index conviction is: (a) the first occasion in the year in question on which an individual was given a non-custodial sentence, (b) the first date at which an individual was estimated to have been released from prison from a custodial sentence, or (c) the first occasion in the year in question on which an individual was given a non-court disposal, whichever occurred first. This is defined to be the offender’s index conviction. The crime and sentence involved in this index conviction are referred to throughout this bulletin as the index crime and index disposal respectively. The analysis then considers the proportion of these individuals who are reconvicted within one and two years from the date of sentence or the estimated prison release date, i.e. from the relevant date of the index conviction. Convictions for a court or bail related offence, such as committing an offence while on bail, are not considered as index convictions. If the first conviction in the year for a particular offender was for such an offence, their next non-court related conviction was taken instead. Where an individual had no further convictions in the year for non-court related crimes they are not included in the data set.
12.4.7 Where there is a choice of more than one index conviction for an individual, i.e. where they received more than one sentence disposal on the same day, then the one selected is by reference to a) the most severe form of sentence, and then b) the most serious main offence.
12.4.8 Crimes and offences and sentence type have been grouped in this bulletin as follows.
|Crime category||Crimes and offences included|
|Violent crime||Murder, culpable homicide, attempted murder, serious assault, robbery, common assault, other violence.|
|Sexual crime||Rape, attempted rape, sexual assault, other indecency, breach of a sex offender order. Excludes prostitution offences.|
|Dishonesty||Housebreaking, theft by opening lockfast places, theft of motor vehicle, other theft, fraud, other crimes of dishonesty and social security offences.|
|Criminal damage||Fire-raising, vandalism.|
|Drug offences||Illegal importation, supply or possession of drugs, other drug offences|
|Breach of the peace||Breach of the peace, racially aggravated harassment, racially aggravated conduct.|
|Other crimes and offences||Crimes against public justice, handling offensive weapons, miscellaneous firearm offences, prostitution offences, other crimes and offences (not elsewhere specified).|
|Serious violent crime||As per violent crime, but including only those convictions which took place in the High Court or a Sheriff solemn court.|
|Serious crime||All convictions which took place in the High Court or in a sheriff solemn court, and any other convictions for serious assault, robbery, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life etc., abduction, attempted rape and indecent assault.|
|Sentence category||Sentences included|
|Custody||Custodial sentence to prison, young offender’s institution or child detention, excluding life and indeterminate sentences.|
|CSO||Community Service Order|
|PO||Probation Order (with or without CSO or RLO)|
|DTTO||Drug Treatment and Testing Order|
|RLO||Restriction of Liberty Order|
|Monetary||Fine, compensation order, caution.|
|Other||Supervised Attendance Orders, absolute discharge, remit to children’s hearing, admonishment, hospital order, guardianship order, finding of insanity, hospital order & restricted order, supervision and treatment order and disposals not elsewhere specified.|
|Police disposals||Anti-social behaviour fixed penalty notices (ASBFPNs), formal adult warnings, other police warnings.|
|Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service disposals||Fiscal fines, fiscal fixed penalties.|
12.4.9 The age of each person relates to their age at the time that sentence was passed. This also applies to offenders discharged from a custodial sentence, i.e. their age at the date of sentence rather than estimated release date is taken.
12.4.10 Information on actual dates of release for prisoners is not currently available for matching with the conviction data held on the Scottish Offenders Index. For the purposes of the analysis in this bulletin, the date of release for offenders given a custodial sentence has therefore been estimated from their date of sentence, the length of sentence imposed, assumptions about time spent on remand and release on parole, and information about whether the offender had been granted bail. The release date estimated by this approach will not always tie in with the actual release date because the offender may be serving other custodial sentences, for example. However, this is not judged to be significant for the purposes of the current analysis. The main exception to this relates to offenders discharged from life sentences or, for some cohorts, very long determinate custodial sentences - see Section 12.3.7.
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