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.

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6 Context and supplementary information

The previous publication 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 over the past three years that appeared to be driven by increases in the time served in custody.

This publication builds on the information provided in July 2020 and the findings continue to reflect this overarching trend. With that in mind, we re-iterate the explanation for these trends provided in July 2020 as the key context in which the findings from this publication should be viewed[26]:

“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[27], 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[28] 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.[29]

Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services provide ongoing monitoring and modelling of change within the justice system. Recent analysis[30] 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 most recent 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[31].”

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. 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:

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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