Scottish Prison Population Statistics: Legal Status, 2019-20

Experimental prison population statistics covering the period 2009-10 to 2019-20, expanding on the previous publication with information about legal statuses, sentences and offences.

Executive Summary

This publication supplements the previously published 2019-20 Scottish Prison Population Statistics[1]. With the inclusion of legal information[2] , this publication contains additional analyses of the legal statuses, index offences and the sentences being served in the Scottish prison population from 2009-10 to 2019-20.

The supplementary statistics presented in this publication are in development and are therefore labelled as experimental. Experimental statistics are defined by the Code of Practice for Statistics as 'a subset of newly developed or innovative official statistics undergoing evaluation, that are published in order to involve users and stakeholders in the assessment of their suitability and quality at an early stage'. User feedback is therefore sought to inform ongoing improvement of these statistics. This can be submitted at

A summary of key findings from the data presented in the publication is provided below.

Average daily prison population

The data indicates that the overall average daily prison population fluctuated over the ten years to 2019-20. Between 2009-10 and 2011-12, there was a general rising trend in the prison population. The population fell steadily thereafter but rose steeply between 2017-18 and 2019-20 from around 7,500 to almost 8,200, exceeding the previous peak (8,133) in 2011-12.

The prison population comprises three groups: the sentenced population, the untried population and the convicted awaiting sentence population (with the latter two comprising the remand population). The new data shows that the recent increase in the overall population was driven by increases in the sentenced and untried populations. By 2019-20, the average daily population for both groups exceeded the previous peak population levels in 2011-12 (reaching 6,621 and 1,177 respectively).

Trends for women and young people in custody differ from the overall population trend. Following a downward trend from 2011-12, the women’s average daily sentenced population rose by around 7% in 2018-19, while the untried population increased by around 29% in 2019-20 (from 52 to 67). However, by 2019-20, the overall average daily population of women in custody remained below the peak population level observed in 2011-12 (402 as opposed to 468).

The average daily population of young people in custody has fallen substantially across all three legal status categories since at least 2009-10, although the reduction for those aged 18-20 years appears to have levelled off from 2017-18.

Individuals in custody

The data shows that the number of individuals spending time in custody each year fell by around 15% between 2009-10 and 2019-20. This o decrease is observed across all legal status categories but is most pronounced for individuals held as untried or sentenced. However, there were observed increases in the number of individuals spending time in custody as untried and convicted awaiting sentence between 2017-18 and 2019-20 (from 7,114 to 7,509 for untried and from 4,632 to 4,786 for convicted awaiting sentence).

Disaggregation by demography, shows that the overall reduction in individuals spending time in custody each year from 2009-10 has been driven almost entirely by a reduction in young people and younger adults (those under 30 years). For individuals aged 30 or over there has been either observable stability or increases in the numbers held in custody across legal status types.

Over the period analysed, there has also been a greater reduction in the number of women spending time in custody than men (falling by 24% and 21% respectively for the untried; by 29% and 7% for those convicted awaiting sentence; and 28% and 18% for thesentenced population).

Arrivals and departures from custody

Overall between 2009-10 to 2019-20, arrivals to custody fell . Breaking down by legal status, sentenced arrivals fell by a greater proportion than untried or convicted awaiting sentence arrivals, falling by 53% between 2009-10 and 2019-20 compared to just 24% and 22% for untried and convicted awaiting sentence respectively.

Since 2009-10, the majority of arrivals to custody (=>70% in any given year) were in remand (untried and convicted awaiting sentence). In 2019-20, sentenced arrivals accounted for just 21% of arrivals to custody.

The number of departures from custody also fell overall between 2009-10 to 2019-20, and the nature of sentenced departures also changed. Compared with the period 2010-11 to 2017-18, a higher proportion of departures from the sentenced population in 2018-19 and 2019-20 were on completion of full sentence. The proportion of departures on conditional release (i.e. released on license, parole, under Supervised Release Order or Home Detention Curfew) fell substantially from between 20-24% during 2010-11 to 2017-18 to just 11% in 2019-20.

Index offences and sentences

The single largest group in the average daily sentenced population are individuals serving sentences for Violent offences (around one third of the average daily population), a consistent pattern from 2009-10 . Across all violent offence categories, the average daily sentenced population rose in 2019-20. Recent increases are also observed in the average daily populations serving sentences for ‘handling offensive weapons’, ‘common assault’, ‘breach of the peace’, ‘housebreaking’, ‘other miscellaneous offences’ and ‘drugs’ offences.

There has been a substantial increase in the average daily population of those serving sentences for Sexual offences (rising from 8% of the average daily sentenced population in 2009-10 to 16% in 2019-20). While there have been increases across all the sexual offence categories, the most marked increase was in the population serving sentences for ‘rape and attempted rape’, trebling from 213 in 2009-10 to 640 in 2019-20.

On the other hand, a clear downward trend is observed for the average daily population serving sentences for Other offences. This is largely driven, despite the recent small increases, by the 36% reduction in the average daily sentenced population serving sentences for ‘drugs’ offences, falling from 993 in 2009-10 to 637 in 2019-20.

The short term sentenced prison population (those serving sentences of less than 4 years) has shifted in a number of ways over time. The average daily population of those serving very short sentences of 1 year or less has been decreasing over time, particularly those serving up to 3 and up to 6 month sentences (from 280 and 879 in 2009-10 to 119 and 567 in 2019-20).

On the other hand, the average daily population of those serving sentences between 1 and 2 years increased substantially over the period , with notable spikes in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Moreover, the average daily population serving sentences between 2 and 4 years decreased overall to 2018-19 but had a substantial increase in 2019-20 (to 1,037, an increase of almost 100 from 2018-19).

The long term sentenced prison population (those serving 4+ year sentences) has increased across the board, resulting from both longer term trend growth and more recent rapid growth. Recent growth is observed in the average daily populations of those serving sentences up to 10 years (from 1,147 in 2017-18 to 1,318 in 2019-20) and 10 years or more (from 214 in 2017-18 to 275 in 2019-20).

Longer term, consistent growth is observed in the average daily populations serving life sentences (rising from 839 in 2009-10 to 948 in 2019-20) and sentences with an Order of Lifelong Restriction (rising from 57 to 185 over the same time period). These categories account for a growing proportion of the average daily sentenced population (up from from 13.8% in 2009-10 to 17.1% in 2019-20). The number of recalled prisoners in the average daily sentenced population has grown 36% since 2009-10, reaching 403 in 2019-20.

Custodial journeys

Individuals entering custody can experience a variety of custodial journey types, depending on their legal status on arrival and whether or not they transition between legal statuses before departing. Using the new data, this publication analysed for the first time, the nature of custodial journeys and the amount of time spent with untried and convicted awaiting sentence statuses.

Looking specifically at custodial journeys that begin in remand, the most common journey type is an individual entering and departing from the untried population only, accounting for around a third of journeys beginning in remand in 2019-10. These journeys are typically associated with shorter periods in custody (a median of 21 days in 2019-20). Similar short periods in custody are typically associated with individuals who enter and depart from the convicted awaiting sentence population only, and with individuals who enter custody as convicted awaiting sentence before transitioning to the sentenced population.

Longer periods on remand are associated with individuals who transition from untried to awaiting sentence, or to the sentenced population, or both (a median of 37 days, 53 days and 112 days respectively). The length of time spent in the remand population increased substantially between 2009-10 and 2019-20, with stays of more than 120 days accounting for around 6% of such journeys in 2009-10, rising to around 17% of such journeys in 2019-20. The increase in length of time on remand has been most pronounced since 2017-18.



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