Scottish Prison Population Statistics 2021-22

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.

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10 Context and supplementary information

Previous publications have provided a high level summary of the changes occurring in characteristics of the prison population. These included a reduction in the numbers of individuals spending time in custody year on year, but a growth in the daily prison population from 2017-18 that appeared to be driven by increases in the time served in custody.

This publication builds on the information provided in previous publication[55]. With that in mind, we re-iterate the explanation for the trends documented in previous releases as the key context in which the findings from this publication should be viewed[56]:

“The changes described [in this publication] may reflect the multitude of legislative and policy changes implemented across the wider criminal justice system in recent years. The data presented here cannot attest to the impact of these on their own, but the context is important to consider in interpreting the patterns above.

“For example, in terms of sentencing, the presumption against short term prison sentences was introduced in 2011, and extended to include custodial sentences of 12 months or less in 2019, with the aim of reducing ineffective use of custody and encourage community based sentences addressing offending and rehabilitation. Changes in sentencing practices over time are observed in the Criminal Proceedings in Scotland 2018-19 report[57], with a steady increase in custodial sentences of more than one year.

“Changes to release arrangements can impact the prison population. Automatic early release for longer term prisoners ended in 2015 and use of home detention curfew for short term prisoners[58] was substantially reduced in 2018. Audit Scotland have also highlighted the stretching of financial resources and staff due to rising prisoner numbers as adversely affecting re-offending/rehabilitation programme completion and preventing prisoners from qualifying for release on parole.[59]

“Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services provide ongoing monitoring and modelling of change within the justice system. Recent analysis[60] suggests that the above factors, in combination with historical improvements in clear-up and conviction rates, have impacted on the size and nature of the prison population.

“However, modelling change also suggests that shifts in [the prison] populations may reflect changes in the nature of offending coming to the attention of justice agencies, whether through shifting social norms and values and/or direct changes to legislation on criminal offences. The [previous] Criminal Proceedings in Scotland 2018-19 release points to substantial rises in convictions for sexual offences (including rape and attempted rape) where the imposition of custodial sentences is highly likely[61].

“Compliance with public health measures during the pandemic influenced operations across the criminal justice system. The Lord Advocate issued revised guidelines on the use of police custody, and the courts had to close for extended periods or operate at reduced capacity. Prison establishments had to ensure sufficient space to allow prisoners to observe public health measures.

“The impact of justice system responses to public health measures in 2020-21 included: a decreased volume of custody cases reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and an increased volume of undertakings reports[62]; a reduced likelihood of an accused being remanded[63]; a reduced volume of concluded cases in courts, with subsequent reduction in custodial sentences issued and growth in the trial backlog[64]; and an agreement in the initial stages of the pandemic response to early release of eligible short term sentenced prisoners[65]. Combined, these shifts impacted both the in-flows to custody and the out-flows from custody.

“Whilst it is not yet possible to isolate the impact of the pandemic on the data, it is reasonable to conclude that the latest data is predominantly a reflection of the impact of the pandemic across the justice system, and should not be interpreted as indicative of longer-term trends.”

Other sources of information on the Scottish prison population

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

From June 2020 until April 2022, Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services published a monthly data report with the latest available information from across the justice system[66]. This includes information about monthly populations and about the alleged offences of people arriving on remand. These data are not directly comparible with the statistics presented in this report, as they are derived from collected daily snapshots rather than by the cellWise data construction. Furthermore, they are based on live information and have not been passed thorugh the quality assurance applied to cellWise statistics.

From May 2022 this monthly information on prison populations was integrated into the Justice Analytical Services Monthly data report[67] and expanded to include statistics on time on remand to date for the remand population on the first of each month.

Information comparing prison populations across Europe is compiled by the Council of Europe each year in the SPACE-I collection[68]. The collated figures are drawn from single day snapshots (typically January 31st each year), or totals over the course of a calendar year. They are therefore related to, but not directly comparible with, cellWise data.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) publish a range of statistical information and research reports about the prison population on their website. Justice Analytical Services is not responsible for the content of these reports.

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 can be found on the SPS website:

The latest SPS Prisoner Survey was conducted in 2019 and is available at

The Scottish Prison Service publishes quarterly public information reports providing information across a number of prisoner and staff metrics. The quarterly reports covering the period of this annual report are listed below:



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