Scottish Prison Population Statistics, 2020-21

The latest longitudinal statistics on prison populations and flows into and out of prison. Includes information about the demographics of people in prison, the time they spend there, their sentences and offences.

This document is part of a collection

Key Findings

Average Daily Prison Population

Responses to Covid related public health measures across the Justice System had a substantial impact on Scotland’s prison population in 2020-21. The average daily prison population in 2020-21 was 7,337 – a reduction of around 10% from the previous year (8,200), which directly contrasts the annual population increases occurring between 2017-18 and 2019-20.

While there was an overall population reduction in 2020-21, population levels fluctuated throughout the reporting year. The first three months of 2020-21 saw a rapid and large reduction, with the prison population falling below 7,000 in June 2020. This was followed by a slower increase to September 2020, and thereafter a stabilisation at around 7,500 on average (section 1.1).

Reflecting Covid impacts on the wider justice system, overall reductions in 2020-21 are only observed in the sentenced (-15% to 5,657) and convicted awaiting sentence (-28% to 250) populations. In contrast, the untried population rose by almost 18% to 1,384 in 2020-21 (+208 from 2019-20). Combined, these changes have shifted the balance between legal statuses (remand and sentenced) in the prison population. In 2020-21, 22% of the prison population were held on remand on an average day – the largest proportion ever recorded.

The number of women in prison on an average day in 2020-21 fell more than the population of men in prison in the same period. While the average daily population of men fell 10% between 2019-20 and 2020-21 (from 7,793 to 7,037), the women’s population fell 26% (from 402 to 300) (section 1.3). Both the women’s sentenced and convicted awaiting sentence populations fell in 2020-21, but in contrast to the overall trend the women’s untried population remained at the same level as in 2019-20 (67 in both reporting years).

Similarly the population of young people under 21 in custody also fell by a greater amount than the overall population, reducing by around one third between 2019-20 and 2020-21 (from 325 to 216). The fall in this group occurred in the sentenced and convicted awaiting sentence populations, with the untried population increasing by a small amount (+6 from 2019-20 to 2020-21).

The 15% reduction in the overall average daily sentenced population was not equal across the different index offence groups. There were greater reductions in the populations with index offences in Group 3 ‘Dishonesty’, Group 5 ‘Other crimes’ and Group 6 ‘Miscellaneous offences’ (35%, 23% and 21% respectively) than in the populations with index offences in Groups 1 and 2 (9% and 2.8% respectively), the most serious violent and sexual offences. Therefore, those with index offences in Group 1 or 2 accounted for a greater share of the sentenced population in 2020-21 than in 2019-20 – almost 60% compared to around 55%.

The extent of reduction in the sentenced population also varied by index sentence group. During 2020-21, the average daily population serving an index sentence of 4 years or less reduced by between 14% and 35% across the different sentence bandings. On the other hand, the populations serving longer and indeterminate index sentences remained largely stable between 2019-20 and 2020-21.

While the overall (average daily) remand population rose by 7% from 2019-20 to 2020-21, this increase was not spread uniformly across all index offence[1] groups. There were large increases in the populations accused of index Group 1 ‘Non-sexual crimes of violence’ (+28% between 2019-20 and 2020-21) and index Group 2 ‘Sexual offences’ (+11% over the same period). However, the populations accused of index offences in Group 3 ‘Dishonesty’ and Group 5 ‘Other crimes’ decreased by 24% and 11% respectively between 2019-20 and 2020-21.

Prison Population Flows

Population reductions are further reflected in a 28% reduction in arrivals to prison (from 14,340 to 10,260), and a 29% reduction in departures (from 14,741 to 10,493) between 2019-20 and 2020-21. Fewer individuals spent any time in prison over the course of 2020-21 than in 2019-20 (-3,071 to 14,239, a fall of around 18%). While all of these reductions continue trends observed from 2009-10, these are the largest single year reductions recorded.

Reflecting Covid impacts on the justice system, convicted awaiting sentence (-49%) and sentenced (-45%) arrivals fell by a larger proportion than untried arrivals (-14%) between 2019-20 and 2020-21. As a result, untried arrivals accounted for a greater share of all arrivals in 2020-21 than in 2019-20 - 67% compared to 56%.

While there was an overall fall in departures from custody in 2020-21, the number of liberations to bail increased. Departures from remand liberated on bail trebled compared with 2019-20, from 530 to 1,548 (section 6.4.1).

Time spent on remand continued to increase between 2019-20 and 2020-21 (section 6.3.1). For those who departed custody from remand, the median duration remained approximately the same (22 days in both reporting years). However, while in 2019-20 90% of remand departures had occurred with 98 days, in 2020-21 this had risen to 109 days.

For those who transitioned from remand to the sentenced population, the median time on remand rose steeply from 36 days to 55 days over the same period. In 2019-20, 90% of transitions occurred within 145 days but in 2020-21 this had risen to 175 days.



Back to top