This website is no longer being updated. Please go to GOV.SCOT

Prison statistics and population projections Scotland: 2013-14

Listen

3. Prison statistics 2013-14: main findings

Prison population

4. After a sustained overall increase during the 00s, the prison population has been falling since 2011-12, with a 2 per cent drop between 2012-13 and 2013-14[1] to an annual daily average of 7,894. (Table A.1). Figures published in the Scottish Prison Service annual reports based on management information confirm that the prison population is currently continuing to fall by about 2 per cent per year[2].

5. While the underlying longer term trend has been upward since the 90s, there have been shorter-term peaks and troughs over the more recent period before a sustained fall since 2011-12 (Chart 3.1). The current long-term projections suggest a continued levelling-out over the next ten years, and these are discussed in more detail in Section 4. It is also interesting to note that the rise in the prison population since the mid 00s is set against a backdrop of falling levels of recorded crime. These historical trends are analysed in more detail in Prison statistics and population projections Scotland: 2011-12 (Annex B).

Chart 3.1 Average daily prison population (Scotland): 1980 to 2013-14

Chart 3.1 Average daily prison population (Scotland): 1980 to 2013-14

6. At a general level, the observed rise in prison population during the 00s has been more marked for certain categories, the main features including:

  • relatively gradual upward drift in convictions for more serious offences and increased sentence lengths (particularly for sexual crimes) driving an overall increase in the long-term population with sentences of four years and more
  • increased use of custodial sentences for lower level crimes and offences, coupled with improved efficiency of the criminal justice system, driving increases in the short-term population during 2008 and 2009
  • increased use of remand since the mid 00s
  • rise in recalls from supervision or licence since the mid 00s, although this group accounts for a relatively small proportion of the prison population.

Chart 3.2 Average daily prison population by prisoner type: 2004-05 to 2013-14

Chart 3.2 Average daily prison population by prisoner type: 2004-05 to 2013-14

7. The current decrease is due to a fall of 3 per cent in the sentenced population to 6,419 (Chart 3.2 and Table A.3). The drop is much more marked for young persons (19 per cent compared to 1 per cent for adults). Historical trends for different sentence groups are shown in below in Charts 4.2 and 4.3, and discussed in more detail in Prison statistics and population projections Scotland: 2011-12 (Section 3).

8. Prisoners on remand or recalled from licence or supervision currently constitute just over a quarter of the prison population, and these categories have shown disproportionate increases since the early 00s. The remand population has been stable recently, reaching 1,474 during 2013-14, while the recall population has decreased by 3 per cent to 693 (Table A.1).

9. Untried prisoners form about 80 per cent of the remand population, 1,163 compared to 311 for remand prisoners who have been convicted but not sentenced. The untried population has gone up slightly over the past year by 1 per cent, while the population of convicted remand prisoners awaiting sentencing has dropped by 1 per cent.

10. During the 00s, the female population increased more rapidly than the male population and this has reversed over the more recent period. During 2013-14, the average daily population decreased by 2 per cent to 7,462 for men, while the female population decreased by 6 per cent to 432. The young persons population showed a sharp drop of 18 per cent, and this continues the downward trend observed since the late 00s (Table A.1 and Table A.3).

11. The prison population of young persons and women has historically followed a different trajectory to that for the adult male population, and a summary of drivers of change for these population groups can be found in Scottish prison population projections: 2010-11 to 2019-20 (Annex A). The Commission for Women Offenders set up by the Scottish Government in 2011 produced a report examining more effective ways of dealing with women with a view to reducing reoffending. In June 2015, the Scottish Government launched its youth justice strategy Preventing offending: getting it right for children and young people.

12. Most of the population figures reported in this bulletin are annual daily averages during 2013-14. However, this will hide what can be substantial fluctuations between +/- 300-400 in the daily prison population due to seasonal effects and a range of other, potentially unforeseeable, events. The prison estate has to accommodate prisoners with differing needs, for instance, remand/sentenced, short/long term, as well as those at different stages of progression and security levels. Some groups need separate accommodation, such as women and young persons, and fluctuations in these groups may therefore cause additional service delivery problems[3]. During the 2013-14 reporting period, the population peaked at 8,056 in September 2013 (Table A.2).

Population profile

13. The prison population on 30 June 2013 was 7,883, of which 94 per cent were men (Table A.4). The age profile of women prisoners tends to be somewhat older than that for men (Chart 3.3).

Chart 3.3 Age distribution of prisoners by sex: 30 June 2013

Chart 3.3 Age distribution of prisoners by sex: 30 June 2013

14. Just under three fifths (59 per cent) of the prison population had a medium supervision level, and 9 per cent had a high supervision level. The remaining third had a low level of supervision (Table A.4, see Section 5 for details on supervision levels).

15. The crime category with the largest population of sentenced prisoners on 30 June 2013 was non-sexual violent crime (37 per cent), followed by the other crimes category (18 per cent). The latter category consists mainly of drugs-related crimes, which make up 11 per cent of the total (Table A.5, see Section 5 for classification of crimes/offences). This pattern does not vary much from year to year.

16. The incarceration rate per 100,000 16+ population is highest for Dundee (322) and Glasgow (313), followed by West Dunbartonshire (265). Inverclyde, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and North and East Ayrshire also have relatively high imprisonment rates. Aberdeenshire has the lowest rate (49), followed by East Dunbartonshire (55), Orkney Islands (61), and East Renfrewshire (67) (Table A.6). There is a strong correlation between imprisonment rates and area deprivation, and more information can be found in the 2005 report by Roger Houchin Social exclusion and imprisonment in Scotland.

Receptions

17. Although receptions[4] can show a degree of variation from year to year (Chart 3.4), the overall trend has been downward after a sharp increase during the mid-00s, primarily driven by a marked rise in remand receptions (Table A.8). Current figures for 2013-14 show a slight drop of 1 per cent compared to the previous year to 33,626. Sentenced receptions have decreased by 2 per cent, while remand receptions have increased slightly by 1 per cent during 2013-14 and are more prone to year on year fluctuation.

Chart 3.4 Prison receptions by custody type: 2004-05 to 2013-14

Chart 3.4 Prison receptions by custody type: 2004-05 to 2013-14

Direct sentenced receptions

18. The bulk of the general rise in direct sentenced receptions (excluding recalls and fine default) up to 2008-09 is due to increasing volumes of lower level crimes and offences. These include crimes against public justice (such as contempt of court, failure to appear, perjury and bail offences), drug-related crimes, handling offensive weapons, common assault and breach of the peace (Table A.11, see Section 5 for classification of crimes/offences). Trends for receptions by crime type are discussed in more detail in Prison statistics and population projections Scotland: 2011-12 (Annex B).

19. In terms of types of crimes and offences, the most notable area of change during 2013-14 are receptions for crimes of violence (down by 14 per cent and falling since 2011-12) and dishonesty (down by 7 per cent and part of a longer term decrease since the mid 90s). Receptions for crimes against public justice have increased by 19 per cent, and sexual crimes have also increased by a fifth, although the latter only account for 3 per cent of direct sentenced receptions (Table A.11).

20. The average sentence length has fluctuated somewhat over the last 10 years, with a general upward trend to 354 days for 2013-14 (Table A.12 and Chart 3.5). Readers should note that where several sentences are to be served consecutively, the sentence length recorded is the total length of the combined sentences. The average sentence length shown here may therefore differ somewhat from that recorded in the Scottish Government criminal proceedings data.

Chart 3.5 Average sentence length (days): 2004-05 to 2013-14

Chart 3.5 Average sentence length (days): 2004-05 to 2013-14

21. The shift in balance between less serious and more serious crimes highlighted in §18 appears to have had a short term impact between 2003-04 and 2006-07 in terms of a drop in the average sentence length. However, a general increase in receptions for crimes of violence over the 90s and 00s will have had a greater impact on the prison population in the longer term as these tend to result in heavier sentences (see Annex A in Scottish prison population projections: 2010-11 to 2019-20 for a discussion of the longer term trends).

22. The receptions data show that the fall in the prison population since 2011-12 has been influenced by several factors impacting over different timescales. Most recently, this appears to be driven in part by a fall in the number of receptions for sentences between six months and two years after the sharp increase observed since the mid-00s (Chart 3.6). There has also been has been a more gradual levelling out of mid-range sentences between two and four years, combined with longer term decreases since the early 00s for sentences of four years or more. These changes are less marked in terms of relative volumes, but will have a disproportionate impact on the population in the longer term. In contrast, it can be seen that the marked fall since the late 00s in the number of receptions for very short sentences under three months has had little impact on the overall population.

Chart 3.6 Receptions by sentence length: 2000-01 to 2013-14

Chart 3.6 Receptions by sentence length: 2000-01 to 2013-14

International comparisons

23. Scotland’s incarceration rate per 100,000 total population is 145, similar to England and Wales (149) and Spain (142) (Chart 3.7). This is higher than most other European Union countries, particularly the Nordic countries, but substantially lower than the US, the Russian Federation and the Baltic states (Table A.15). These comparisons are shown for general illustrative purposes and should be treated with caution due to the different justice systems and recording rules in operation. Further information, including time series, can be found in the Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics (SPACE) publications.

Chart 3.7 Incarceration rate per 100,000 population by jurisdiction: 2014

Chart 3.7 Incarceration rate per 100,000 population by jurisdiction: 2014

Source: International Centre for Prison Studies World Prison Brief

Note: Figures for Scotland are based on administrative data provided directly by the Scottish Prison Service to the ICPS. Rate for Scotland is based on the total national population estimate for the purposes of comparability. This will give a somewhat lower rate than that reported in §16, which is based on the 16+ population.

Trends in the prison population

24. The prison population increased steadily since the early 00s, with a particularly marked rate of increase between 2005-06 and 2008-09. Since 2011-12, the trend has been consistently downward, falling by about 2 per cent per year (see §4).

Seasonality

25. What is notable is how seasonal patterns have changed since 2009. Population levels have traditionally shown a marked dip over December and January followed by an increase in March and April (Chart 3.8). There also tends to be a lull over the summer months before the figures rise again to peak in the autumn. The seasonal lows mainly reflect slowdowns associated with holiday periods, such as reduced number of court sitting days, although the most recent dip at the end of 2010 has been attributed in part to the extreme weather conditions during that period affecting the propensity to commit crimes, as well as police capacity to respond.

Chart 3.8 Average daily prison population: 2007 to 2013

Chart 3.8 Average daily prison population: 2007 to 2013

26. In 2007, the population shows the expected seasonal patterns, while in 2008, there are more marked increases during the second half of the year. 2009 and 2010 show big increases until the mid-year, followed by a drop. The population then increases during 2011 and the early part of 2012, apart from the seasonal dip over the Christmas period, falling over the rest of 2012 before levelling out during 2013 at similar levels to 2010.

Potential influences

27. A range of factors have contributed to changes in the prison population: legislative change, as well as shifts in policy and practice around police activity, prosecution and sentencing, will affect the prison population to some extent, both in the short and long term. Since the mid 00s, there have been a series of initiatives primarily aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal court system, including increased sentencing powers, reforms to bail procedures and changes to public prosecution policy. Over the same period, there have been increasing volumes of prison receptions for certain crimes and offences such as crimes against public justice, handling offensive weapons, common assault and breach of the peace (see Scottish prison population projections: 2010-11 to 2019-20 for more details).

28. At a general level, the falling population observed since 2011-12 follows a downward trend since the late 00s in the number of custodial sentences, and court convictions in general[5], suggesting that some of these impacts on the prison population during the mid to late 00s may have washed out of the system in recent years.

29. Other changes in policy and practice, particularly in terms of the use of community sentences, are also likely to impact on sentencing patterns and affect the prison population in the longer term. In particular, the Scottish Prisons Commission report Scotland’s choice made recommendations regarding greater use of community sentences, a position which has been supported in the Scottish Government paper Protecting Scotland's communities: fair, fast and flexible justice. One of the key principles in the Prisons Commission report was that custody should be used only when it is needed to reflect the seriousness of the crime and for those who pose a risk of harm, while community sentences should be the norm for less serious crimes.

30. One response has been the introduction of the Community Payback Order and a presumption against custodial sentences of three months or less in February 2011. The Community Payback Order gives courts the flexibility to impose one or more of a range of requirements, depending on the nature of the crime and any underlying issues that need to be addressed in order to prevent re-offending.

31. While the data suggest there has been little impact to date of the presumption on use of very short sentences over and above the secular trend, it is still relatively early days in terms of assessing the overall impact of these changes as this will depend on how they are implemented by the judiciary over the longer term. More detailed analyses can be found in in Prison statistics and population projections Scotland: 2011-12 (Annex D) and Criminal proceedings in Scotland, 2013-14 (Section 3.6).

32. The recently enacted Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Act 2015 may also impact on the prison population in the medium to longer term as it fundamentally reforms the system of automatic early release by ending the current practice of automatic release for long-term prisoners at the two-thirds point of their sentence. The scale of impact will depend on a range of factors including the future flow of long-term prisoners and how the changes in release practice are implemented by the relevant authorities. Estimates of potential impact can be found in the associated financial memorandum.