2 Sentenced Population – Offence and Sentence Length Profile
To allow comparison over time and with other statistical sources covering the justice system, we examine the offence profile of those held in custody by index offence. The 35 offence categories (and seven over-arching offence groups) provide high-level summaries of the offence profile of the prison population, but may mask the full complexity of the offence profiles of individuals in the prison population.
Some of the likely reasons for the changes discussed in this section are discussed in section 1.1.
2.1 Index offence groups
[Supplementary tables M2]
There were reductions in the (average daily) sentenced population across all offence groups between 2019-20 and 2020-21. However, as Figure 8 shows, the extent of that reduction varied across the different offence groups.
In the context of a 15% fall in the sentenced population overall, the population with a group 2 sexual index offence reduced by just 2.8% beween 2019-20 and 2020-21, and the population with a group 1 non-sexual violence index offence reduced by around 9% over the same period. The sentenced populations with index offences in groups 3, 5 and 6 (crimes of dishonesty, other crimes and miscellaneous crimes) reduced by 35%, 23% and 21% respectively between 2019-20 and 2020-21.
The varied reduction across the offence groups between 2019-20 and 2020-21 has changed the overall offence profile of the prison population. In 2019-20, around 55% of the sentenced population had a group 1 or 2 index offence. In 2020-21, this rose to almost 60%.
[Supplementary tables M2]
In the context of a 29% fall in the sentenced population of women, the index offence group profile of the women’s (average daily) prison population changed from 2019-20 to 2020-21. As with the population overall, there have been reductions across all offence groups, with the exception of the population serving sentences for sexual offences, which remains very small (see Figure 9).
The population of women serving sentences for index offences in group 1 non-sexual crimes of violence fell by just over 18% from around 131 in 2019-20 to around 106 in 2020-21.
There were substantial reductions in the populations serving sentences for group 3, 5 and 6 index offences, albeit the absolute numbers are small. The population of women serving sentences for index group 3 dishonesty offences almost halved from 51 in 2019-20 to 28 in 2020-21, while over the same time period the population of women serving sentences for index group 5 and group 6 offences fell by 40% (from 63 to 38) and 33% (from 35 to 23) respectively.
As per the overall population, the variation in the extent of the reductions across the different offence groups has changed the overall offence profile of the women’s prison population. In 2019-20, 43% of the sentenced population of women were serving sentences for index group 1 non-sexual crimes of violence. In 2020-21, this rose to 50%.
2.1.2 Young people
[Supplementary tables M2]
The sentenced (average daily) population of young people continued a previously observed downward trend across all offence groups, including those serving sentences for index group 1 non-sexual crimes of violence (where an increase had been noted in 2019-20). See Figure 10:
In line with the overall pattern for the sentenced population of young people (see section 1.4), the population across each of the main offence groups has almost halved. Non-sexual crimes of violence continued to account for the largest group in the sentenced population of young people in 2020-21 – just over 50%.
2.2 Index offence categories
[Supplementary tables M2]
This section provides detailed breakdowns of index offence groups by subcategory.
2.2.1 Group 1 – Non-sexual crimes of violence
There were reductions in the (average daily) populations across all index offence categories in group 1, with the exception of ‘Other non-sexual crimes of violence’ where the population rose from around 93 in 2019-20 to 113 in 2020-21. The population serving sentences for ‘Homicide etc.’ reduced by a very small amount from around 651 in 2019-20 to around 644 in 2020-21, but the populations serving sentences for ‘Attempted murder and serious assault’ and ‘Robbery’ reduced by 13.8% and 13.7% respectively over the same time period.
2.2.2 Group 2 – Sexual offences
In line with the previously observed rising trend, the (average daily) population serving sentences for ‘Rape and attempted rape’ increased between 2019-20 and 2020-21. This population rose by just over 3% from around 641 in 2019-20 to around 663 on an average day in 2020-21. The populations across the other group 2 offence categories reduced by small amounts between 2019-20 and 2020-21 (relative to the 15% reduction in the sentenced population overall).
2.2.3 Group 3 – Crimes of dishonesty
The average daily populations across the group 3 offence categories all fell in 2020-21. With respect to ‘Housebreaking’ (32% decrease from 299 in 2019-20 to around 204 in 2020-21) and ‘Shoplifting’ (more than halving from 99 in 2019-20 to 47 in 2020-21) these reductions were substantial.
2.2.4 Group 4 – Fire-raising, vandalism etc.
The average daily population with an index offence of vandalism was static between 2019-20 and 2020-21, in the context of a 15% reduction in the sentenced population overall. Fire-raising index offences fell by 24%; more than the sentenced population as a whole.
2.2.5 Group 5 – Other crimes
The average daily populations across the group 5 offence categories fell in 2020-21. The most substantial reduction was in the population serving an index ‘Drugs’ offence, falling by 30% from 647 in 2019-20 to around 453 in 2020-21.
2.2.6 Group 6 – Miscellaneous offences
The (average daily) populations across the group 6 offence categories fell in 2020-21 (albeit noting that not all offence categories in this group are present as index offences within the prison population). The population serving sentences for ‘Breach of the peace’ fell almost 30% from 312 in 2019-20 to around 220 in 2020-21.
2.3 Index sentences
[Supplementary tables M3]
The index sentence is the longest single sentence being served in each occupancy period. Where somebody has multiple custodial sentences, the overall sentence length cannot be calculated from the available data. This is due to a lack of information as to whether multiple custodial sentences are to be served consecutively or concurrently. Where an individual is given multiple sentences to be served consecutively (a common occurrence with multiple short sentences), their overall sentence length may be considerably longer than the longest individual sentence.
As Figure 11 shows, between 2019-20 and 2020-21, there was a reduction in the (average daily) populations with an index sentence of 4 years or less. The extent of that reduction varied by category. While the sentenced population fell 15% overall, the populations with index sentences of up to 3 months, from 12 up to 18 months, and from 2 up to 4 years reduced by 14% (119 to 103), 21% (469 to 372) and 18% (1,045 to 859) respectively. Across other index sentences under 4 years, the reductions were greater, ranging from 30% to 35%.
On the other hand, the populations of those serving longer and indeterminate index sentences remained largely stable between 2019-20 and 2020-21.
The population of recalled prisoners fell by 8%, from around 378 in 2019-20 to around 348 in 2020-21.
The patterns observed in 2020-21 contrast the longer-term trends previously observed in the index sentence profile of the prison population.
Looking at sentence length trends by gender is challenging due to the smaller numbers of women held in custody in a given year. Given the 29% reduction in the women’s sentenced population during 2020-21, this challenge is greater than in previous statistical releases.
Figure 12 shows the index sentence profile of the (average daily) population of women in 2020-21. As in the overall population, there were substantial reductions in the population of women serving short-term index sentences between 2019-20 and 2020-21 (albeit the absolute numbers are small). Also similar is the broad stability in the population of women serving long-term and life index sentences between 2019-20 and 2020-21.
2.3.2 Young people
Looking at sentence length trends for young people is also challenging due to the small numbers of young people in custody. Again this challenge is greater in this current statistical release due to the large population reductions occurring in 2020-21 (see Figure 13).
In line with the overall trends, there have been reductions in the (average daily) population of young people serving short-term index sentences between 2019-20 and 2020-21. Some have been substantial, but the very small absolute numbers in each category make discerning a clear pattern difficult. Unlike the overall trend, there have also been reductions in the numbers serving long-term and life sentences. Once again though, very small absolute numbers are challenging to interpret.
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