Scotland’s prison population has increased by almost 10% in the past two years, partially due to convicts who are serving longer sentences and not getting parole.
Despite a fall in the number of people sent to jail, convicts are spending longer behind bars than at any point in the last decade, causing the average number of inmates to increase.
The number of prisoners on an average day in 2019-20 was 8,195, an increase of 731 since 2017-18, according to the chief statistician.
Inmates served 168.8 consecutive days on average, a rise of 9.6 over the same time period and up from 124.7 days at the start of the decade.
A total of 17,294 convicts were imprisoned for all or part of 2019-20 – a fall of 15.25% from the 20,407 in 2010-11.
Since the start of the decade, the proportion of people leaving prison having spent a year or more in custody is up from 7% to 10%, while those who spend three months or less in custody has fallen from 70% to 58%.
Although the chief statistician’s report stresses there could be numerous causes for the rising prison population, it highlights the “substantially reduced” use of home detention curfew for short-term prisoners from 2018.
It also cites an Audit Scotland report warning financial restrictions on rehabilitation programmes and staff are “preventing prisoners from qualifying for release on parole”.
Men make up the vast majority of those imprisoned – approximately 16,000 of the 17,294 people jailed in the last year.
The report states those from the most deprived areas of Scotland are three times more likely to be jailed.
The proportion of new prisoners who are homeless has also increased over the past decade, from 4.4% to 7.5%.
The average age of those imprisoned has risen from 31.8 years old in 2010-11 to 35.9 in 2019-20, and the proportion who are aged 55 or over has more than doubled in the last decade from 3.3% to 7%.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “While sentencing decisions are a matter for the independent judiciary and decisions about release on licence are for the Parole Board for Scotland, these figures indicate that those who commit serious crimes and pose a risk of harm to the public are spending longer in prison than previously.”
Expressing concern at the “large proportion” given short prison sentences, Mr Yousaf added: “While such decisions are made based on the facts and circumstances before the sheriff or judge, we know that people released from a short prison sentence of 12 months or less are reconvicted nearly twice as often than those sentenced to serve community payback orders, the most commonly used community sentence.
“That is why the Scottish Government will continue to encourage the use of more effective community interventions, which also allow an appropriate level of supervision, without the disruptive and often counterproductive impacts of imprisonment, such as losing a job to support your family, losing your home or the close and positive contact with loved ones.
“While these figures reflect progress in reducing youth crime over the last decade, they also underline the continued over-representation of people from Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities.
“That is why the solutions for further success lie not just within Scotland’s justice system but across society.
“Our clear focus on issues which can influence offending behaviour – including through early intervention, prevention and community-based disposals – remains the right one.”
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