1. Main findings: reconviction rates for court disposals
1.1 Headline figures
The reconviction rate and average number of reconvictions per offender (Table 1 and Chart 1) have generally decreased over the past decade. Between 2006-07 and 2015-16, the reconviction rate has fallen by 5.4 percentage points from 32.4% to 27.0%, and the average number of reconvictions per offender has fallen by 22% from 0.60 to 0.47. These reductions are set against the context of a 41% drop in recorded crime over the same period between 2006-7 and 2015-16 (Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2015-16). The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey also reveals a similar pattern of falling incidence of crime.
There was a slight increase in both the reconviction rate and average number of reconvictions per offender in 2008-09. This is due to the Summary Justice Reform, which was designed to take less serious cases out of the justice system at an earlier stage, and to improve the efficiency of court processes, which resulted in cases being processed faster through the courts.
The size of the cohort has increased every year since a low of 41,697 in 2012-13. In 2015-16 there were 44,036 offenders discharged from custody or given a non-custodial sentence (index convictions). However, the figure in 2015-16 was still lower than the figure of 53,306 a decade ago, in 2006-07.
1.2 Age and gender
Continuing a persistent long-term trend, males have higher reconviction rates and a higher average number of reconvictions per offender than females (Table 2 and Chart 3 and 4). The average number of reconvictions per offender for the 2015-16 cohort was 0.49 for males, and 0.40 for females. This is a 6% decrease for males (from 0.52) and an 11% decrease for females (from 0.45) compared to 2014-15. The reconviction rates in 2015-16 were 28.0% for males and 22.3% for females, a 1.3 percentage point decrease for both males (from 29.3%) and females (from 23.6%) in 2014-15.
Over the longer term, reconviction rates and average number of reconvictions for males have been declining from a high of 33.9% and 0.66, respectively, in 2002-03; and the levels are now similar to those for females about 10 years ago. For females, reconviction rates and average number of reconvictions were at a high of 27.9% in 2004-05 and 0.53 in 2003-04 and 2008-09, respectively. Numbers have generally fallen over the past decade for males and females, but have occasionally fluctuated year to year.
Chart 3: Average number of reconvictions per offender for males and females, 2015-16 offender cohort
Chart 4: Reconviction rate for males and females, 2015-16 offender cohort
Reconviction rates and average number of reconvictions decreased for all age groups between 2014-15 and 2015-16 (Table 3). The decrease in the average number of reconvictions ranged from 9% for the under 21s, to 6% for the 26 to 30 and over 40 age groups.
Reconviction rates and average number of reconvictions for under 21s were the highest of the age groups in 2015-16 (33.2% and 0.59, respectively), and lowest for the over 40s (20.1% and 0.34, respectively), as they have been historically. The other age groups (21 to 25, 26 to 30, and 31 to 40) were quite similar in 2015-16, with reconviction rates ranging from 28.3% to 29.3%, and average number of reconvictions ranging from 0.47 to 0.53 (Table 3).
Over time, the average number of reconvictions for under 21s have decreased by more than a third (37%), from a high of 0.93 in 1997-98 to the latest figure of 0.59 in 2015-16. The figures for under 21s had seen a rise in 2013-14 and 2014-15, but the 2015-16 figures are the lowest levels recorded in the period covered by this publication (Table 3).
The average number of reconvictions for the 21 to 25 age group peaked at 0.74 in 2002-03, and a year later for the 26 to 30s at 0.66 in 2003-04. Average numbers of reconvictions for both age groups have generally decreased from their peak to their lowest level in 2015-16 of 0.47 for the 21 to 25 year olds (a 36% decrease since their peak) and 0.50 for those aged 26 to 30 (a decrease of 24% since their peak) (Table 3).
The average number of reconvictions for the older age groups (31 to 40 and over 40) have generally increased in recent years. The average number of reconvictions in 2015-16 for the 31 to 40 group was 33% higher than the lowest figure in 1999-00 (0.40 compared to 0.53), and was 17% higher for the over 40s than the lowest figure in 1999-00 and 2000-01 (0.29 compared to 0.34). However, as previously noted, the figures decreased over the past year between 2014-15 and 2015-16 for both age groups, but it is too early to determine if this is the start of a downwards trend for these age groups (Table 3).
Age and gender
Patterns of change in reconvictions (both rates and average numbers) for males of different age groups were generally similar (Table 4) to those for all offenders (Table 3), as males comprise the majority of cohorts (82% in 2015-16). As for the overall pattern by age, the average number of reconvictions for all male age groups decreased between 2014-15 and 2015-16, ranging from a 7% decrease for the under 21s, to a 5% decrease for the 31 to 40 and over 40 age groups.
Under 21s had the highest average number of reconvictions of the male age groups in 2015-16 (0.62), followed by 31 to 40 (0.54), 26 to 30 (0.51), 21 to 25 (0.49); with the over 40s having the lowest (0.35) (Chart 3). Historically the average number of reconvictions used to decrease with age, but in recent years the gap has narrowed between the under 40 age groups (Table 4 and Chart 5).
Like males, the average number of reconvictions fell across all female age groups between 2014-15 and 2015-16, but the decrease was generally greater across the age groups compared to males, ranging from 20% for those aged 21 to 25, to 3% for the over 40s. The reconviction rate also decreased in three of the five age groups, with very small increases seen in the under 21 and over 40 age groups (Table 5).
For females, the patterns of reconvictions across age groups is slightly different to males. In 2015-16, the age group with the highest average number of reconvictions was the 31 to 40 group (0.48), followed by 26 to 30 (0.44), under 21 (0.43), 21 to 25 (0.37); with the lowest for the over 40s (0.30) (Chart 3). The most notable difference to males is for the under 21 age group, which has always been highest of the male age groups, but this hasn’t been the case for the under 21 female age group since 2002-03 (Table 5 and Chart 6).
Chart 5: Average number of reconvictions per offender, males by age: 1997-98 to 2015-16 cohorts
Chart 6: Average number of reconvictions per offender, females by age: 1997-98 to 2015-16 cohorts
1.3 Index crime
An “index crime” is the crime which resulted in the “index conviction”, the reference conviction which reconvictions are counted from. If a person was convicted for more than one charge in a set of proceedings, then the crime that was given the most serious disposal is counted as the index crime (see Annex A4). See Annex Table A1 and Annex A5 for definitions.
In general, offenders who were convicted for lower level index crimes which tend to be committed in higher volumes, are more likely to be reconvicted than those who commit more serious crimes. As has been true since 1997-98, offenders with an index crime of dishonesty, for example shoplifting (see Annex Table A2 for crime groupings), have the highest average number of reconvictions per offender and reconviction rate of any of the index crimes (Table 6 and Chart 7). For offenders convicted of crimes of dishonesty in the 2015-16 cohort, the reconviction rate was 42.8%, and there was an average of nearly 1 reconviction per offender (0.92). This compares to offenders with an index crime of a sexual crime, which had the lowest reconviction rate (10.7%) and lowest average number of reconvictions per offender (0.17) of any index crime (Chart 7 and Table 6).
Offenders from the 2015-16 cohort who had index crimes, other than sexual crimes or crimes of dishonesty, had an average number of reconvictions per offender ranging between 0.32 for violent crime and 0.53 for other crimes and offences. The reconviction rates ranged between 20.7% for violent crime, and 30.4% for other crimes and offences (Table 6 and Chart 7).
Reconviction rates and the average number of reconvictions for violent crimes, sexual crimes, criminal damage, and breach of the peace decreased between 2014-15 and 2015-16. In contrast, reconviction rates and average numbers of reconvictions both increased for the Other crimes and offences category over the past year. For crimes of dishonesty and drug offences, reconvictions were near identical to last year. Decreases in the average number of reconvictions between 2014-15 and 2015-16 ranged from 11% for violent crime to 1% for crimes of dishonesty, whereas the increase for other crimes and offences was 8% (Table 6 and Chart 7).
Over the longer term, reconvictions for most index crimes have been declining, apart from sexual crimes, criminal damage, and other crimes and offences, which tend to fluctuate from year to year with no clear trend (Table 6 and Chart 7).
Chart 7: Average number of reconvictions per offender, by index crime: 1997-98 to 2015-16 cohorts
Reconviction crime by index crime
Table 7 shows the types of crimes that offenders in the 2015-16 cohort were reconvicted for by each type index crime. The majority of offenders in the cohort (almost three quarters, 73%) were not reconvicted for any crime. For those that were reconvicted, overall more were reconvicted for breach of the peace than any other type of crime (10.2% of all offenders), and fewer offenders were reconvicted for a sexual crime than any other type of crime (0.3% of all offenders).
Table 7 highlights the degree to which offenders specialise on particular types of crime. Offenders convicted of crimes of dishonesty, drug offences, and breach of the peace were reconvicted for the same type of crime more than other types. Even in these cases where the majority of offenders reconvicted were reconvicted for the same crime as the index crime, there were other offenders who were reconvicted for different crimes to their index crimes. This suggests that offenders do not necessarily specialise on a particular type of crime.
1.4 Index disposal
The index disposal is the sentence received for an index conviction (see Annex Table A1 and Annex A5 for definitions). If a person is convicted for more than one charge in a set of proceedings, then the charge that receives the most serious disposal is counted as the index disposal (see Annex A4).
A disposal may reduce reconvictions as offenders are rehabilitated. However, different disposals are given for different types of crime and differing offending histories, and as seen elsewhere in this bulletin, these factors are also determinants of whether an offender is likely to reoffend or not. These factors should be considered when comparing the effectiveness of different types of sentences. Table 10 and the Reconviction rates by disposal, age, sex and previous convictions table in the additional tables published with this publication give reconviction rates for different offender characteristics for the disposals.
This year, for the first time, we have published reconviction rates for extended sentences (ES) and supervised release orders (SROs) separately from other custodial sentences (Table 8). This is because there were changes to the Criminal Proceedings data methodology in 2015-2016 that allowed ES and SROs to be identified separately to other custodial sentences in the extract that we receive from the CHS. The custodial sentence category now only includes those that were sent to prison or young offenders institutions, plus a small number of orders for lifelong restriction.
Offenders released from a custodial sentence in 2015-16 had a higher reconviction rate and average number of reconvictions per offender than offenders given any other disposal except a DTTO. The reconviction rate for offenders released from custody in 2015-16 cohort was 43.4%, a 1.2 percentage point decrease on the 2014-15 rate of 44.6%. The average number of reconvictions per offender decreased by 3% from 0.89 to 0.86 in the same period (Table 8 and Chart 8). Note that reconviction rates for different lengths of custodial sentences vary considerably which is discussed in the next section of this bulletin.
Over the last decade, for those released from custodial sentences, there has been a 19% decrease from just over one reconviction per offender on average (1.06) in 2006-07, to below one on average (0.86) in 2015-16 (Table 8, Chart 8). The long term decline in the reconviction rate for custodial sentences has been set against a sustained overall increase in the prison population during the 2000s. Since 2011-12, the prison population has been decreasing by about 2% a year. However, the relationship between patterns of reconviction and the prison population is not straightforward and one should not necessarily infer a direct causal link between the two. Trends in and drivers of the prison population are discussed in detail in the publication Prison statistics and population projections Scotland: 2013-14.
ES are custodial sentences given for sexual crimes, or violent crimes that attract a custodial sentence of 4 years or more. ES have a period of supervision of up to 10 years in the community after the custodial sentence. If offenders breach their licence during the extended part of the sentence they can be recalled to prison. Reconviction rates, like the other custodial sentences, are based on the estimated release date from the custodial part of the sentence. 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. The reconviction rates are low compared to other disposals because they are generally given to sex offenders, who typically are reconvicted less than other offenders (Table 6 shows that offenders convicted of a sexual crime had the lowest reconviction rates for any index crime). Reconviction rates for ES fell between 2014-15 and 2015-16 by 2.2 percentage points from 14.3% to 12.1%. The average number of reconvictions in 2015-16 was 0.14, which was very similar to last year’s figure of 0.15. Reconvictions have fluctuated from year to year for ES, which in part is probably due to the small cohort sizes and low numbers of reconvictions, where a small change would have a greater effect on percentages compared to larger cohorts (Table 8 and Chart 8).
SROs are given for crimes other than sexual crimes and consist of a custodial sentence of 1 to 4 years, followed by a period of supervision of up to a year by a social worker. If the offender breaches the order they can be returned to prison. As with ES, we do not have information on the length of the supervision period on our dataset. Reconvictions for SROs are similar to Restriction of Liberty Orders (RLOs) and Community Payback Orders (CPOs), and lower than non-supervised custodial sentences. The reconviction rate of 36.0% for SROs in 2015-16 was slightly lower (0.8 percentage points) than the figure of 36.8% in 2014-15, but the average number of reconvictions increased by 11% from 0.55 to 0.61 in the same period. However, reconvictions for SROs are generally lower than they were five years ago (Table 8 and Chart 8).
Community sentences: CPOs, DTTOs, RLOs
Community Payback Orders (CPOs) were introduced by the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 and came into effect from 1 February 2011. The CPO replaces provisions for Community Service Orders (CSO), Probation Orders (PO) and Supervised Attendance Orders (SAO) – the “legacy orders” - for any offences committed after this date. Annex D gives a brief overview of the trends for the transitional period from 2010-11 to 2013-14. There were still a small number of offenders given a legacy community order in 2015-16 as they were given for offences committed prior to February 2011.
CPOs are the mostly widely used community sentence, with a cohort size of 10,801 in 2015-16. Reconviction rates for CPOs fell by 2.1 percentage points over the past year from 32.9% in 2014-15 to 30.8% in 2015-16. The average number of reconvictions per offender for CPOs also fell in the same period from 0.59 to 0.54, a decrease of 8%. Reconvictions for CPOs haven’t showed a clear trend since they have become established and have fluctuated year to year (Table 8 and Chart 8).
Compared to the legacy community orders, reconviction rates for CPOs are 2.8 percentage points lower than the last full year of legacy orders in 2009-10 before CPOs were introduced (30.8% for CPOs in 2015-16 and 33.6% for legacy orders in 2009-10). There were 0.54 reconvictions per offender on average for CPOs in 2015-16, which is 13% lower than 0.62 for the legacy orders in 2009-10 (Table 8 and Chart 8). Note that is difficult to compare the remaining legacy orders that have been issued with CPOs due to changes in the type of offenders given the legacy orders now (see Annex D).
A Drug Treatment and Testing Order (DTTO) is a high tariff disposal for people with serious drug use problems, and includes the requirement for regular reviews by the court and that the person consents to frequent random drug tests throughout the lifetime of the order. Offenders given a DTTO have the highest average number of reconvictions per offender and the highest reconviction rate compared to the other disposals (Table 8 and Chart 8). The average number of reconvictions per offender was 1.68 in 2015-16, which is a slight decrease of 5% from 1.77 in 2014-15. In contrast, the reconviction rate increased slightly by 0.8 percentage points over the same period from 63.6% to 64.4%. Over a longer period, reconvictions for DTTOs are lower than they were a decade ago, with the average number of convictions falling by 17% over the past decade from 2.02 in 2006-07 to 1.68 in 2015-16. However, reconvictions have been somewhat similar over the past 5 years with year to year fluctuations.
Restriction of Liberty Orders (RLOs) are imposed for periods of up to one year, and involves restricting an individual to a specified place for up to 12 hours per day and/or from a specified place for up to 24 hours. The reconviction rate (33.9%) and average number of reconvictions (0.58) for RLOs in 2015-16 were very similar to the figures in 2014-15 (33.7%, and 0.60, respectively). Over the longer term, reconvictions are now much lower for RLOs than they used to be, with the average number of reconvictions decreasing by 46% over the past decade from 1.07 in 2006-07 to 0.58 in 2015-16. RLOs have been more widely used over the past decade with the size of the cohort almost doubling from 548 in 2006-07 to 993 in 2015-16 (Table 8 and Chart 8).
Monetary and other disposals
Between 2014-15 and 2015-16, the average number of reconvictions for monetary disposals decreased by 8%, from 0.36 to 0.33. The reconviction rate also decreased, by 1.2 percentage points from 22.3% to 21.1%.
The numbers of offenders with an monetary index conviction has nearly halved in the past decade from 28,500 offenders in 2006-07 to 15,100 in 2015-16. This may, in part, reflect the impact of Summary Justice Reform which was designed to take less serious cases out of the court system. Reconvictions have also fallen for monetary disposals in the past decade, with the average number of reconvictions decreasing by a third (33%) from 0.49 in 2006-07 to 0.33 in 2015-16 (Table 8 and Chart 8).
For Other disposals, such as admonishments, there was a decrease in the reconviction rate from 21.3% to 20.1% and the average number of reconvictions per offender from 0.37 to 0.33 between 2014-15 and 2015-16. Over time, reconvictions for Other disposals have fluctuated with no clear trend. The reconviction rates have ranged from 20.1% to 23.8% and the average number of reconvictions per offender ranged from 0.44 to 0.33 (Table 8 and Chart 8).
Chart 8: Average number of reconvictions per offender by index disposal: 1997-98 to 2015-16 cohorts
1.5 Sentence length of custodial index conviction
Note that Table 9 which presents reconviction rates by custodial sentence length, includes ES and SROs as in previous years. This is because the numbers of ES and SROs are small in each sentence length category and it is difficult to the interpret reconviction rates calculated on small groups.
Short custodial sentences have high reconviction rates (Table 9 and Chart 9). Offenders who commit relatively low level crimes but in high volumes are more likely to be reconvicted (see Section 1.3), and these offenders are more likely to get short custodial sentences. In contrast, longer custodial sentences are given to offenders who commit more serious crimes, but these offenders tend to commit these crimes in low volumes, and hence fewer are reconvicted. For example, the reconviction rate for custodial sentences of 3 months or less in 2015-16 was 58.5%, compared to 9.2% for sentences over 4 years.
Chart 9: Reconviction rates for index disposals and sentence lengths for the 2015-16 cohort1
1. Chart 9 shows reconviction rates for each disposal type. The category “disposal from custody” shows reconviction rates for all offenders discharged from a prison or young offender institutions in 2015-16. SROs and ES are presented separately. Custodial sentence length includes all custodial sentences (prison, young offender institutions, ES, and SROs).
There is a mixed picture for changes in reconvictions over the past year for different lengths of custodial sentences (Table 9). Reconviction rates and average number of reconvictions decreased for sentences of 3 to 6 months and over 4 years and; but increased for sentences between 1 and 4 years long. For sentences under 3 months the reconviction rate decreased, but the average number of reconvictions stayed the same; and for sentences of 6 months to 1 year the reconviction rate stayed the same, but the average number of reconvictions increased.
The picture is somewhat complicated over the longer term for all sentence lengths (Table 9). Over the past 19 years, reconvictions have fluctuated for all sentence lengths.
1.6 Conviction history prior to index conviction
Conviction history is a strong predictor for the likelihood of reconviction, as reconviction rates increase with increasing numbers of previous reconvictions. Offenders with more than 10 previous convictions have the highest reconviction rates, whereas offenders with no previous convictions in the past ten years have the lowest reconviction rates. This pattern holds true even when age, sex, or disposal (all of which have an association with the likelihood of reconviction) are taken into account (Table 10).
1.7 Two year rates
Reconviction rates in Scotland were reported with a two-year follow-up period before the 2009-10 cohort bulletin. After this point, the focus has been mainly on a follow-up period of one year rather than two years as, in general, the one-year rate tracks the two year rate, and has the benefit of being more timely.
Using the two-year follow up period there has been a decline in the reconviction rate and in the average number of reconvictions per offender every year since 2009-10 (Table 13). Over 10 years from 2005-06 to 2014-15, the average number of reconvictions per offender has fallen by 19% from 1.13 to 0.91, and the reconviction rate has seen a 5.9 percentage point reduction from 44.8% to 38.9%. Between 2013-14 and 2014-15 the reconviction rate decreased by 1 percentage point from 39.9% to 38.9% and the average number of reconvictions fell by 6% from 0.97 to 0.91.
These declining trends mirror those seen for the one-year follow up period (Table 1) but as there is a longer follow-up period, the associated values are typically greater, for instance:
- In 2014-15 the two-year reconviction rate was 10.6 percentage points higher than the rate for the one-year reconviction rate (38.9% for the two year compared to 28.3% for the one year rate).
- The average reconvictions per offender are nearly half a conviction (0.41) higher for the two-year rate (0.91 reconvictions per offender on average over two years, compared to 0.50 over one year).