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.


An Experimental Statistics Publication by Scottish Government Justice Analyical Services on behalf of the Scottish Prison Service

This statistical release has been designated as experimental statistics. Experimental statistics are official statistics that are newly developed or innovative, and are undergoing evaluation. Part of the aim of this publication is to engage with users to assess the suitability and value of the statistics released. Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services are therefore seeking your feedback on this publication, to improve the product and better support our user base. If you are a user of these statistics, please click the link below to take part in our user questionnaire.

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About Scottish Prison Population Statistics

This publication presents new data on the Scottish prison population up to 2019-20. It explores population levels and composition and how these have changed over time, with a particular focus on the last 10 years. This is the first Scottish Government publication on the prison population since December 2015.

This publication was produced by Scottish Government statisticians using administrative data from the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) management information system. These data are collected for by prison officers and staff for operational intelligence and logistical support.

The prison population is not static; individuals move in and out of the population every day. The SPS management information system is live, updating on a daily basis to capture movements (e.g. to/from remand) within the prison population. An extract of data from this system reports on the population at the moment in time the extract is drawn. Like many other operational databases, it was not designed to retain detailed historical data or provide retrospective information to assess how the prison population is changing over time.

The Scottish Government holds detailed historical prison population data up to 2014. This dataset was compiled by combining and linking daily extracts from the live Scottish Prison Service operational database and formed the basis for much of the previous statistical publications on the prison population.[1] However, due to technological difficulties arising when the Scottish Government server was upgraded in 2014, it is no longer possible to support what was a complex and resource intensive data cleaning and compilation process.

In the absence of this historical dataset, collating information on the prison population and how it is changing over time now relies on the data that do persist over time in the SPS management information system memory. Information about the times when prisoners occupied specific cells is retained, and forms the basis for these statistics. Matched to that is information provided by prisoners on arrival about their personal characteristics.

Using this new dataset, this publication seeks to replicate the content of the previous statistical publications as far as possible, so that meaningful comparisons may be made. Data are provided on annual average population levels, the changing nature of the movements of the prison population and the changing characteristics of that population. Additional analyses of where the prison population are drawn from are also included.

Unfortunately the Scottish Government cannot currently provide data relating to contemporaneous legal information, i.e. tracing legal statuses, offences and sentences back through the historical records in PR2. To date it has not been possible to collate this information in a reliable way and align it with the occupancy data on which this publication is based. This means this publication does not yet include information on legal status: we cannot separate sentenced prisoners from those held on remand in our analyses. We also cannot provide information on the offences for which prisoners have been convicted or the length of sentence they are serving.

Publishing information on the above is an ongoing development project currently being pursued by Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services, on which we will provide an update in winter 2020.

Associated data tables

The associated data tables with this publication include measurements in addition to those discussed in this publication. They are also available interactively at

These tables include prevalence by a number of additional groups, including marital status, sexual orientation, and demographics by prison establishment.

Other sources of information on the Scottish prison population

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) publish a range of statistical information and research reports about the prison population on their website:

For weekly population snapshots and annual averages of the prison population broken down by custody type, gender and age, as well as the population on home detention curfew by gender:

For the SPS Prisoner Survey and other research reports:

The Scottish Government produces a range of statistics on the crimimnal justice system. Those referenced in this publication include information about recorded crime rates ( and criminal proceedings statistics (



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