Publication - Statistics

Reconviction Rates in Scotland: 2018-19 Offender Cohort

Analyses of trends in reconviction statistics up to the latest cohort of 2018-19.

Reconviction Rates in Scotland: 2018-19 Offender Cohort
1. Main findings: reconviction rates for court disposals

1. Main findings: reconviction rates for court disposals

1.1 Headline figures

(Table 1)

The trends presented in this publication are likely to be largely unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Reconvictions for the 2018-19 cohort can be counted up to the end of 2019-20, if an index conviction was at the end of 2018-19. However, court closures due to lockdown only affected the last week and a half of 2019-20.

Over the short term, the reconviction rate increased by 1.9 percentage points from 26.4% in 2017-18 to 28.3% in the latest cohort of 2018-19. In the same period the average number of reconvictions per offender also increased by 6% from 0.47 to 0.50.

Over the longer term, the reconviction rate and average number of reconvictions per offender (Table 1 and Chart 1) have generally decreased over the past decade. Between 2009-10 and 2018-19, the reconviction rate has fallen by 2.3 percentage points from 30.6% to 28.3%, and the average number of reconvictions per offender has decreased by 11% from 0.56 to 0.50. Similarly court business has seen a decrease over the same period between 2009-10 and 2018-19, with a 34% decrease in the number of people proceeded against in court (Criminal Proceedings in Scotland, 2018-19). More widely, other measures of crime also show decreases, with a 27% drop in recorded crime between 2009-10 and 2018-19 (Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2020-21), and the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey also reveals a similar pattern of falling incidence of crime.

The size of the cohort has decreased in the past three years, after increasing in the three years before that. The cohort size decreased by 10% from 36,674 in 2017-18 to 32,912 in 2018-19. This is the smallest cohort in the past 22 years, and is 38% lower than the largest cohort of 53,460 in 1997-98. The shrinking cohort reflects the decreases in the number of people convicted seen in the Criminal Proceedings Statistics since 2015-16. The slight lag in the reconviction cohort compared to the number of people convicted, is likely to be because those given custodial sentences are counted at sentence date in the Criminal Proceedings Statistics, whereas they are counted later in a reconvictions cohort at the estimated time when they are released.

1.2 Age and sex

(Table 2, Table 3, Table 4 and Table 5)

Sex

Sex in this bulletin is generally based on a person's physiology as perceived by a police officer, rather than self-identified gender, and is recorded when a person's details are entered into the CHS. Sex may be different to that recorded at birth if a person has a Gender Recognition Certificate. In a small number of records sex will be recorded as unknown if a clear understanding of the sex of the individual is not known. See Annex A11 and A12 for further details.

Chart 3: Average number of reconvictions per offender for males and females, 2018-19 offender cohort
Bar chart showing the average number of reconvictions for males and females, by age in the 2018-19
Chart 4: Reconviction rate for males and females, 2018-19 offender cohort
Bar chart showing the reconviction rate for males and females, by age in the 2018-19

Both measures of reconvictions are higher for males than females, as in previous years.

Males make up the vast majority of offenders in each cohort, with males making up 83% of the cohort in 2018-19. 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). In 2018-19 the reconviction rate was 29.0% for males and 24.6% for females, and average number of reconvictions per offender was 0.51 for males, and 0.48 for females.

Both measures of reconvictions increased for males and females over the past year.

Both measures of reconvictions for males and females are higher than they were last year. For males, the reconviction rate increased by 1.9 percentage points from 27.1% in 2017-18 to 29.0% in 2018-19, and the average number of reconvictions increased 9% from 0.47 to 0.51 in the same period. For females, the reconviction rate increased 1.4 percentage points from 23.2% to 24.6% in and the average number of reconvictions increased 12% in the past year.

Over the longer-term, reconvictions for males have generally decreased, but are similar for females.

In the past decade, the average number of reconvictions fell by 19% for males from 0.58 in 2009-10 to 0.51 in 2018-19, and the reconviction rate fell by 2.7 percentage points from 31.7% to 29.0% in the same period. For females, the average number of reconvictions was 0.47 in 2009-10, which was slightly lower than the value of 0.48 in 2018-19, and has fluctuated over the past decade. The reconviction rate for females was 25.0% in 2009-10 and was slightly lower in 2018-19 at 24.6%.

Age

All age groups showed an increase in both measures of reconvictions between 2017-18 and 2018-19.

The increases in the reconviction rate ranged from 1.3 percentage points in the over 40 year olds, to 2.5 percentage points in the 21 to 25 age group (Table 3). The rise in the average number of reconvictions was relatively small in each age group, with the exception of an 11% increase in the 31 to 40 age group, from 0.53 in 2017-18 to 0.59 in 2018-19.

Under 21s have the highest reconvictions and the over 40s have the lowest

Reconviction rates and average number of reconvictions for under 21s were the highest of the age groups in 2018-19 (33.4% and 0.60, respectively), and lowest for the over 40s (20.7% and 0.36, respectively), as they have been historically. The other age groups (21 to 25, 26 to 30, and 31 to 40) had values closer to the under 21s, with reconviction rates ranging from 30.7% to 31.0%, and average number of reconvictions ranging from 0.50 to 0.59 (Table 3).

Reconvictions for Under 21s have decreased substantially over the past 22 years.

Over time, the average number of reconvictions for under 21s have decreased by more than a third (35%) in 22 years, from a high of 0.93 in 1997-98 to the latest figure of 0.60 in 2018-19. However, after a general decline, numbers have been fluctuating in the past six years (Table 3).

It should also be noted that the under 21 cohort size decreased substantially in the past 22 years by more than three quarters (77%) from 13,796 in 1997-98 to 3,127 in 2018-19. It has decreased by 66% in the past decade alone from 9,325 in 2009-10. The fall is in part due to dealing with youth offending outside of court and early interventions. In terms of its effect on the national cohort size, 22 years ago the under 21 cohort represented 26% of the national cohort, compared to 10% in the most recent cohort. This large change in the under 21 cohort size, coupled with the decrease in reconvictions for this group, means that changes in this group are a significant component of the reduction in the overall national reconviction rate.

Reconvictions for the over 21s have fluctuated in recent years

The average number of reconvictions for the 21 to 25 age group is lower than it was a decade ago, with a decrease of 18% from 0.61 in 2009-10 to 0.50 in 2018-19. However, most of that decrease was in the early part of the decade and they have fluctuated in the past five years. There is a similar pattern for the 26 to 30 group, with the average number of reconvictions 15% lower than it was a decade ago, with a figure of 0.62 in 2009-10 compared to 0.53 in 2018-19, and the figure has fluctuated in the past three years.

Reconvictions for the over 30s have fluctuated over the past decade, but they are higher than they were more than a decade ago. (Table 3). The cohort size for the over 40 group represented 28% of the 2018-19 cohort, compared to 12% of the cohort 22 years ago. As the over 40 group has the lowest reconviction rates of any age group, the increasing cohort size has been a partial component of the reductions seen in the overall national reconviction rate.

Age and sex

Patterns of change in reconvictions (both rates and average numbers) for males of different age groups are generally similar over time (Table 4) to those for all offenders (Table 3), as males comprise the majority of offenders in the cohort (83% in 2018-19) (Chart 5).

Chart 5: Average number of reconvictions per offender, males by age: 1997-98 to 2018-19 cohorts
Chart showing the trend in the average number of reconvictions for each male age group between 1997-98 to 2018-19
Chart 6: Average number of reconvictions per offender, females by age: 1997-98 to 2018-19 cohorts
Chart showing the trend in the average number of reconvictions for each female age group between 1997-98 to 2018-19

All male age groups showed some increase in both measures of reconvictions between 2017-18 and 2018-19.

The increases in reconviction rates ranged from 1.5 percentage points in the 26 to 30 and over 40 age groups, to 2.8 percentage points in the 21 to 25 year age group. The average number of reconvictions for all age groups increased, with the biggest increase, in percentage terms, being a 12% increase in the over 40s from 0.33 to 0.37 (Table 4 and Chart 5).

Historically, the average number of reconvictions used to decrease with age, but in recent years the pattern has changed as the gap has narrowed between the age groups. In 2018-19, under 21s had the highest average number of reconvictions of the male age groups (0.62), followed by 31 to 40 (0.59), 26 to 30 (0.53) and 21 to 25 (0.51); with the over 40s having the lowest (0.33) (Table 4 and Chart 5).

Almost all female age groups showed an increase in both measures of reconvictions in the past year.

The reconviction rate for all female age groups increased, except for the under 21 age group. The increases in reconviction rates ranged from a 0.3 percentage point increase in the over 40 age group, to a 5.4 percentage point increase in the 26 to 30 age group. The reconviction rate for the under 21 age group decreased by 0.3 percentage points.

The average number of reconvictions increased for all female age groups in the past year, with the largest increase, in percentage terms, being a 14% increase in the 21 to 25 age group from 0.37 to 0.42 (Table 5).

The pattern of reconvictions across female age groups is slightly different to males.

In 2018-19, the age group with the highest average number of reconvictions was the 31 to 40 group (0.58), followed by 26 to 30 (0.53), under 21 (0.47), and 21 to 25 (0.42). The lowest was the over 40s (0.35) (Chart 6). The most notable difference to males is for the under 21 age group, which has always been highest of the male age groups (Table 4 and Chart 5), but this hasn't been the case for the under 21 female age group since 2002-03 (Table 5 and Chart 6).

1.3 Index crime

(Table 6 and Table 7)

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.

Chart 7: Average number of reconvictions per offender, by index crime: 1997-98 to 2018-19 cohorts
Chart showing the trend in the average number of reconvictions for each crime type between 1997-98 to 2018-19

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.

Note that different disposals are given for different crimes, which may also affect the likelihood of reoffending.

As has been true since 1997-98, offenders with an index crime of dishonesty (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 2018-19 cohort, the reconviction rate was 45.6%, and an average of just over one reconviction per offender (1.01). This compares to offenders with an index crime of a sexual crime, which had the lowest reconviction rate (10.4%) and lowest average number of reconvictions per offender (0.16) of any index crime (Chart 7 and Table 6).

Offenders from the 2018-19 cohort who had index crimes other than sexual crimes or crimes of dishonesty, had an average number of reconvictions per offender ranging between 0.34 for violent crime and 0.52 for other crimes and offences. The reconviction rates ranged between 21.8% for violent crime, and 31.4% for other crimes and offences (Table 6).

Reconviction rates increased for almost all categories of index crime over the past year, except sexual crimes.

Crimes of dishonesty had the largest increase in the reconviction rate over the past year, with a three percentage point increase. This was followed by other crimes and offences (2.4 percentage point increase), drug offences (2.2 percentage point increase), criminal damage (1.8 percentage point increase), breach of the peace (1.6 percentage point increase), and violent crime (1 percentage point increase) (Table 6). In contrast, the reconviction rate for sexual crimes decreased by 1.1 percentage points. (Table 6).

The average number of reconvictions either stayed the same or increased for index crimes in the past year.

The average number of reconvictions increased for violent crime, dishonesty, drug offences, breach of the peace, and other crimes and offences. The largest increase in percentage terms, was an 11% increase for drug offences from 0.35 in 2017-18 to 0.39 in 2018-19 (Table 6 and Chart 7).

Over the past decade, trends in reconvictions across crime types have been mixed.

Apart from the rise this year, violent crime, breach of the peace, and drug offences were on a general downwards trend. The other groups have tended to fluctuate from year to year with no clear trend (Table 6 and Chart 7).

Reconviction crime by index crime

Table 7 shows the types of crimes that offenders in the 2018-19 cohort were reconvicted for, by each type of index crime. The majority of offenders in the cohort (almost three quarters, 71.7%) were not reconvicted for any crime. For those that were reconvicted, more were reconvicted for breach of the peace than any other type of crime (9.8% of all offenders) and fewer offenders were reconvicted for a sexual crime (0.4% of all offenders).

Table 7 also highlights the degree to which offenders specialise in 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 the cases where the majority of offenders were reconvicted for the same crime as their index crime, there were still other offenders who were reconvicted for different crimes to their index crimes. This suggests that offenders do not completely specialise on a particular type of crime.

1.4 Domestic abuse index crimes and offences

(Table 8a ,Table 8b, Table 8c and Table 8d)

The crimes and offences counted here as domestic abuse index convictions or reconvictions, are crimes and offences marked with the statutory domestic abuse aggravation or non-statutory domestic abuse identifier.

The statutory domestic abuse aggravation was created by the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 and came into effect on the 24th April 2017 for crimes that took place on or after this date. The statutory domestic abuse aggravation is marked against individual charges and, if proven in court, will be taken into account during sentencing. For example, a common assault offence committed against a partner could be marked with the statutory aggravation. This is the second year that data have been published on this aggravation. Note that the crimes and offences are mostly referred to as "crimes" below for brevity.

Crimes and offences may be also be marked with a non-statutory domestic abuse identifier by the police or COPFS. This is used for operational purposes for prosecution, but does not require proof in court and is not taken into account during sentencing. This has been in place since before the introduction of the statutory aggravation, and as such, provides us with longer time series data. We have published this here in recognition of the value of this trend data to user and will assess whether there is a continuing demand for this data in future bulletins, but it will be published in some form.

Crimes and offences with the aggravation are a subset of those with the identifier. For example, a common assault offence committed against a partner could be marked with the statutory aggravation and the identifier, or just the identifier, but not the statutory aggravation alone.

A new standalone crime of domestic abuse was created by the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018. This crime covers a course of behaviour which is abusive of a person's partner or ex-partner. This crime was introduced on 1st April 2019 so there has not been a long enough follow up period for them to be included here as index convictions, but they could be counted as reconvictions. See Annex B for information on data quality.

Table 8a and Table 8b show the reconviction rate and average number of reconvictions per offender, respectively, for index crimes marked with a statutory domestic abuse aggravation from when it was introduced in 2017-18, to 2018-19. Reconvictions for crimes with a statutory aggravation and reconvictions for any crime (including those with a statutory aggravation) are presented separately. Index crimes without the aggravation are also included as a comparison.

Chart 8: Reconviction rates for crimes and offences with the statutory domestic abuse aggravation, and without the statutory domestic abuse aggravation (non-domestic abuse), 2018-19
Bar chart showing reconviction rates for domestic abuse crimes and offences in 2018-19

Table 8c and Table 8d are similar to Tables 8a and 8b, but show reconvictions for index crimes with the domestic abuse identifier from 2009-10 to 2018-19. Some of these will also have had the statutory aggravation applied. Reconvictions are also presented separately to show those for crimes with an identifier and reconvictions for any crime (including those with the identifier).

Offenders with a domestic abuse index crime were more likely to be reconvicted for a non-domestic abuse crime than a domestic abuse crime.

In 2018-19, 17.7% of offenders with an index crime marked with the statutory domestic abuse aggravation were reconvicted for any crime, compared to 6.9% reconvicted for domestic abuse crimes (Chart 8 and Table 8a). Note that the percentage reconvicted for any crime includes those reconvicted for domestic abuse crimes, so the percent reconvicted for non-domestic abuse crimes can be calculated by subtraction, which gives a figure of 10.8% of offenders with a domestic abuse index crime reconvicted for a non-domestic abuse crime.

Reconviction rates for index crimes marked with the identifier were similar to those marked with the statutory aggravation (Table 8c). In 2018-19, 19.5% of offenders with an index crime with a domestic abuse identifier were reconvicted for any crime and 9.2% were reconvicted for a further crime with a domestic abuse identifier.

Reconvictions for index crimes with the statutory domestic abuse aggravation decreased slightly over the past year, but increased for the identifier

There was a slight decrease in the percentage of offenders with an index crime with a statutory domestic abuse aggravation who were reconvicted for a further domestic abuse crime in the past year (Table 8a). This decreased from 7.0% in 2017-18 to 6.9% in 2018-19. There was also a very small decrease in the average number of reconvictions for a further domestic abuse crime for an index crime with a statutory domestic abuse aggravation from 0.08 in 2018-19 to 0.07 in 2018-19 (Table 8b). However, as the aggravation was only introduced in 2017-18 and it takes time for cases to come to court, then 2017-18 may not have been a representative year.

Table 8c shows that those with an index crime marked with a domestic abuse identifier who were reconvicted for a further domestic crime increased slightly by 0.3 percentage points from 8.9% in 2017-18 to 9.2% in 2018-19. Table 8d shows that there was a very small increase in the average number of reconvictions for a further domestic abuse crime for domestic abuse offenders from 0.10 in 2017-18 to 0.11 in 2018-19. Over the last eight years, the percentage of domestic abuse offenders reconvicted for a further domestic abuse crime has remained stable, but higher than ten years ago. The average number of reconvictions for a further domestic abuse crime by domestic abuse offenders has also followed a similar pattern over the past eight years.

Additional tables showing reconvictions for domestic abuse offenders with the statutory aggravation and identifier by age, sex, crime, and disposal are published alongside this bulletin. The patterns for offenders with a domestic abuse index conviction that were reconvicted for a further domestic abuse crime follow similar patterns to reconvictions for all offenders across all types of crimes that are presented in the other sections of this bulletin. For example, a higher percentage of men are reconvicted for another domestic abuse crime with a statutory aggravation than women (7.2% of males and 4.8% of females in 2018-19), and reconvictions for those given shorter custodial sentences were higher than those given community sentences. The pattern for age is slightly different to the overall picture: as under 21s have the lowest percentage reconvicted for another domestic abuse crime with a statutory aggravation (5.3%), which is more similar to the over 40s (5.7%), than the age groups between over 21 and under 40 which are near identical to each other.

1.5 Index disposal

(Table 9)

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 the likelihood of reoffending 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 predictors 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 11 gives reconviction rates for different offender characteristics for the disposals.

Chart 9: Average number of reconvictions per offender by index disposal: 1997-98 to 2018-19 cohorts
Chart showing the trend in the average number of reconvictions for each disposal between 1997-98 to 2018-19

Custodial sentences

Reconviction rates for Extended Sentences and Supervised Release Orders (SROs) are presented separately from other custodial sentences for interest, as these have a period of supervision after release (Table 9). The custodial sentence category only includes those that were sent to prison or young offenders institutions, plus a small number of Orders for Lifelong Restriction. Note that the SROs and Extended Sentences are included in the custodial sentence length table along with the other custodial sentences (Table 10a).

Offenders released from a custodial sentence in 2018-19 had one of the highest reconviction rates and average number of reconvictions of any disposal.

The reconviction rate for offenders released from custody in the 2018-19 cohort was 43.8%, a 2.8 percentage point increase on the 2017-18 rate of 41.0%. This increase in the reconviction rate follows four years of decreases. The average number of reconvictions per offender increased slightly from 0.79 to 0.81 in the past year, although the most recent figure is still the second lowest in the past 22 years. (Table 9 and Chart 9). 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 15% decrease from about one reconviction per offender on average (0.95) in 2009-10, to 0.81 in 2018-19 (Table 9, Chart 9).

Extended Sentences are custodial sentences given for sexual crimes, or violent crimes that attract a custodial sentence of four years or more. Extended Sentences 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 for Extended Sentences, like 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 at the moment, just the length of the custodial part of the sentence. The reconviction rates are low compared to other disposals, in part because they are given for more serious crimes that are typically committed less frequently than other crimes.

Reconviction rates and the average number of reconvictions for Extended Sentences decreased over the past year.

Reconviction rates for Extended Sentences decreased between 2017-18 and 2018-19 by two percentage points from 11.2% to 9.2%. The average number of reconvictions decreased by 36% from 0.14 in 2017-18 to 0.09 in 2018-19. Reconvictions have fluctuated from year to year for Extended Sentences, 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 9 and Chart 9).

SROs are given for crimes other than sexual crimes and consist of a custodial sentence of one to four 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 recalled to prison. As with Extended Sentences, we do not have information on the length of the supervision period in our dataset.

Reconvictions increased for SROs in the past year.

The reconviction rate of SROs increased by 7 percentage points in the past year, from 38.2% in 2017-18 to 45.2% in 2018-19. The average number of reconvictions increased by 14% from 0.57 to 0.65 in the same period. This is the highest they've been for six years after a period of relative stability (Table 9 and Chart 9).

Community sentences: CPOs, DTTOs, RLOs

Community Payback Orders (CPOs) are a community sentence and consist of one or more of nine requirements imposed by the courts, including: offender supervision, compensation, unpaid work or other activity, mental health treatment, drug treatment and alcohol treatment. Every order must contain either an unpaid work or other activity requirement, or an offender supervision requirement (or both). If an offender fails to comply with a requirement in the order, the court can impose a number of sanctions, including a restricted movement requirement.

CPOs replaced the legacy community orders in 2011. There were still a very small number of legacy community orders in 2018-19 as they were given for offences committed prior to February 2011. During the transition from legacy orders to CPOs from 2010-11 to 2013-14, there were changes in the characteristics of offenders that were given these disposal types. Annex D gives a brief overview of the trends during the transitional period. CPOs are the mostly widely used community sentence, with a cohort size of 7,517 in 2018-19.

Reconvictions for CPOs were virtually unchanged since last year.

Unlike most other disposals, which have shown an increase in reconvictions in the past year, there has been little change for CPOs. The reconviction rate for CPOs was 29.2% in 2018-19, which was unchanged from 2017-18. The average number of reconvictions decreased slightly from 0.52 to 0.51. These figures in the last couple of years are the lowest since CPOs were introduced (Table 9 and Chart 9).

A Drug Treatment and Testing Order (DTTO) is a high tariff disposal for people with serious drug use problems. It 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 of any disposal.

The high reconvictions are associated with the substance misuse that led to the disposal and should not be interpreted as a particular lack of effectiveness of DTTOs compared to other disposals. The average number of reconvictions per offender increased by 27% from 1.41 in 2017-18 to 1.79 in 2018-19. The reconviction rate increased by 5.8 percentage points over the same period from 57.8% to 63.6% (Table 9 and Chart 9).

Over the longer term, the average number of reconvictions of 1.79 in 2018-19 was 5% higher than 1.70 in 2009-10. However, average reconvictions have fluctuated over the decade and they are at a similar level to four years ago. The reconviction rate for DTTOs is 2.4 percentage points lower than it was a decade ago, with a figure of 63.6% in 2018-19 compared to 66.0% in 2009-10. As with the average number of reconvictions, the reconviction rate for DTTOs has also fluctuated with no clear trend.

Restriction of Liberty Orders (RLOs) are imposed for periods of up to one year, and involve 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.

Reconvictions for RLOs increased in the past year.

The reconviction rate for RLOs increased by 1.3 percentage points from 33.2% in 2017-18 to 34.5% in 2018-19. The average number of reconvictions increased slightly from 0.60 in 2017-18 to 0.61 in 2018-19.

Over the longer term, reconvictions are now much lower for RLOs than they used to be, with the average number of reconvictions decreasing by 36% over the past decade from 0.96 in 2009-10 to 0.61 in 2018-19. The reconviction rate has also decreased by 14.9 percentage points in the same period. However, in the most recent five years, reconvictions have been relatively stable, with small year to year fluctuations. RLOs have been more widely used over the past decade, with the size of the cohort more than trebling from 510 in 2009-10 to 1,815 in 2018-19 (Table 9 and Chart 9).

Monetary and other disposals

Reconvictions for monetary disposals are low.

The reconviction rate of 21.6% for monetary disposals in 2018-19 is an increase of 1.8 percentage points from 19.8% in 2017-18. The average number of reconvictions increased by 13% over the same period, from 0.32 to 0.36.

The numbers of offenders with a monetary index conviction has more than halved in the past decade from 20,961 offenders in 2009-10 to 9,767 in 2018-19. This may, in part, reflect the impact of Summary Justice Reform which was designed to take less serious cases out of the court system, and deal with them using non-court disposals (see Section 2). Reconvictions have also fallen for monetary disposals in the past decade, with the average number of reconvictions decreasing by 20% from 0.45 in 2009-10 to 0.36 in 2018-19, although they have fluctuated over the last five years (Table 9 and Chart 9).

Reconvictions for Other disposals are similar to monetary disposals.

For Other disposals, which includes admonishments, cautions, and absolute discharges; the reconviction rate of 21.7% in 2018-19 was higher (by 1.7 percentage points) than the figure of 20.0 % in 2017-18. The average number of reconvictions per offender increased by 12% from 0.34 in 2017-18 to 0.38 in 2018-19.

Over time, reconvictions for Other disposals have been similar over the past decade, with year to year fluctuations. The reconviction rate ten years ago was 22.1% in 2009-10 compared to 21.7% in 2018-19 and the average number of was 0.39 and 0.38, respectively (Table 9 and Chart 9).

1.6 Sentence length of custodial index conviction

(Table 10a and Table 10b)

Note that Table 10a, which presents reconviction rates by custodial sentence length, includes Extended Sentences and SROs, whereas they are presented separately from other custodial sentences in Table 9. This is because the numbers of SROs are small in each sentence length category and it is difficult to interpret reconviction rates calculated on small groups. SROs will be in included in the sentence length categories of below four years. The Extended Sentences are all in the 4 year and over category, and represent just over a third of the over four year sentences.

Short custodial sentences have high reconviction rates and long sentences have low reconviction rates due to association with different types of crime.

Offenders who commit relatively less serious 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 three months or less in 2018-19 was 60.9%, compared to 7.7% for sentences over four years (Table 10a and Chart 10).

Chart 10 shows how different custodial sentence lengths compare with other disposals. Also compare Table 10a to Table 9.

Chart 10: Reconviction rates for index disposals and sentence lengths for the 2018-19 cohort 1
Bar chart comparing reconviction rates for different disposals and custodial sentence lengths in 2018-19

1. Chart 10 shows reconviction rates for each disposal type. The category, Custody, shows reconviction rates for all offenders discharged from a prison or young offender institutions in 2018-19. SROs and Extended Sentences are presented separately from the Custody category. Custodial sentence lengths includes all custodial sentences (prison, young offender institutions, Extended Sentences, and SROs).

Most custodial sentence lengths showed an increase in reconviction rates in the past year, except over four years which decreased (Table 10a).

Over the past year between 2017-18 and 2018-19, increases in reconviction rates for different lengths of custodial sentences ranged from 4.9 percentage points for sentences of over three months to six months, to 0.7 percentage points for over six months to one year.

Increases in average number of reconvictions ranged from 10% for over two years to less than four years, to 3% for three months or less. The average number of reconvictions for over 6 months to 1 year stayed the same in the past year, and there was a small decrease for sentences of over one year to two years from 0.51 to 0.50.

In contrast to other sentence lengths, both measures of reconvictions decreased for sentences of four years and over in the past year. The reconviction rate decreased by 2.5 percentage points from 10.2% to 7.7 % and the average number of reconvictions decreased from 0.12 to 0.09.

Over the past ten years, reconviction rates for all sentence lengths have fluctuated with no clear trend (Table 10a). However, the average number of reconvictions has decreased for all sentence lengths. Therefore, although a similar percentage are being reconvicted, they are reconvicted less frequently.

Table 10b shows reconviction rates and average number of reconvictions for all custodial sentences of one year or less from 1997-98 to 2018-19. These combine all the one year or less custodial sentence length reconvictions that are presented in Table 10a. This table has been included in response to user need for these figures due to high interest around the extension of the presumption against short sentences from three months or less to one year or less. Note that the extension of the presumption against short sentences came into force on 4th July 2019 and only applies to offences committed on or after this date. Therefore, this bulletin does not currently contain figures for index convictions after the introduction of the extension.

1.7 Conviction history prior to index conviction

(Table 11)

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 11).

1.8 Two-year rates

(Table 14)

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 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 decrease in the reconviction rate every year from 2009-10 onwards (Table 14). Between 2016-17 and 2017-18, the reconviction rate decreased by 0.4 percentage points from 37.3% to 36.9%. During the same period, the average number of reconvictions remained the same, the first time it hasn't decreased since 2009-10. Over 10 years from 2008-09 to 2017-18, the two-year average number of reconvictions per offender has fallen by 20% from 1.08 to 0.86, and the reconviction rate saw a 5.5 percentage point reduction from 42.4% to 36.9%.

These long term 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 2017-18, the two-year reconviction rate was 10.5 percentage points higher than the one-year reconviction rate for 2017-18 (36.9% for the two year compared to 26.4% for the one-year rate).
  • The average reconvictions per offender are over a third of a conviction (0.39) higher for the two-year rate (0.86 reconvictions per offender on average over two years for the 2017-18 cohort, compared to 0.47 over one year).

Contact

Email: Justice_Analysts@gov.scot