Scottish prison population: statistics 2019 to 2020

This publication explores the characteristics of imprisoned people in Scotland. Following several years of sustained decrease, the prison population has risen sharply since 2017-2018 to an annual average of around 8,200 in 2019-2020.

Key Findings

Following several years of sustained decrease, the prison population has risen sharply since 2017-18 to an annual average of around 8,200 in 2019-20.

This rise has been amongst the population of adult men only. The average number of women in prison has remained stable since 2013-14 and the average number of young offenders (those under 21 years) continues a downward trend. There has been little change in the average number of prisoners who have served in the armed forces (around 3% of the prison population) or in the average number of prisoners from ethnic minority backgrounds (around 4% of the prison population).

While the overall annual average prison population has increased, the number of individuals imprisoned in each year has fallen. In 2019-20, 17,294 individuals experienced imprisonment (for all or part of that year) in Scotland, a fall of around 15% from 2010-11.

Individual level analysis allows deeper exploration of the composition of the prison population. The number of women experiencing imprisonment has fallen, from 1693 individuals in 2010-11 (8.3% of the total) to 1,263 in 2019-20 (7.3%). Self-reported disability has remained consistent, with around 8-10% of prisoners reporting a disability on entry to prison.

Small but potentially important changes have occurred across the minority ethnic groups in prison. The absolute number of prisoners identifying as 'Mixed or Multiple' or 'Other ethnic group' have increased in the last 10 years, and the absolute number identifying as 'Asian, Asian Scottish Or Asian British' or 'African, Caribbean or Black' have decreased.

Using counts of individuals, rates of imprisonment can be observed. The imprisonment rate for White and Asian people fell between 2011-12 and 2019-20. For other groups, taking into account the uncertainty around ethnic group population estimates, there was no discernable change. At both points in time however, the imprisonment rate for people who identify as African, Caribbean or Black, or from Other ethnic groups, is significantly higher than for people who identify as White.

The average age of individuals experiencing imprisonment is increasing. The average age of prisoners has increased from 31.8 years in 2010-11 to 35.9 years in 2019-20, and the proportion of prisoners aged 55 or over has more than doubled in the last decade.

There are clear links between experience of area level deprivation and likelihood of imprisonment in Scotland. Individuals from the 10% most deprived areas are over-represented in prison arrivals by a factor of three, a finding consistent across the last decade. In addition, the proportion of individuals arriving in prison who report having no fixed abode has increased over the past decade, from 4.4% to 7.5%.

The average time served in custody has been rising. Between 2010-11 and 2019-20, the proportion of individuals who depart prison having served up to 3 months fell from 70% to 58%. The proportion who served a year or more went from 7% of departing prisoners in 2010-11 to 10% in 2019-20.

The prison population comprises two groups: those who remain in prison for the duration of the analytical period (the "full-year" population), and those who enter or leave prison one or more times during the analytical period (the "part-year" population). In the absence of sentencing information, the size of the full-year population provides a potentially usful proxy for those individuals on longer sentences (i.e. longer than 12 months). In 2019-20, the full-year population consisted of 3,417 individuals, while 13,877 made up the part-year population.

Following a period of stability from 2010-11, the full-year population began to increase rapidly in 2018-19 rising from 2,909 in 2017-18 to 3,417 in 2019-20. On the other hand, the part-year population has declined steadily year on year since a high of 17,805 in 2011-12. Thus it appears it is the increase in the full-year group (those serving sentences longer than 12 months) that has driven the recent sharp increase in the prison population overall.



Back to top