Council of Europe

Scottish Prisons in Comparative Perspective

The Council of Europe today published their Annual Penal Statistics – Survey 2016. The report reflects detailed information from 47 of the 52 prison administrations across the Council of Europe. This has revealed a slight increase in the total size of the prison population across these jurisdictions, rising by 1%, the Council of Europe average prisoner population is 117 prisoners per 100,000 people. This report is also important because it allows us to see where Scotland sits in relation to penal trends in other countries.

Matters we should be worried about include the revelation that Scottish prisons have the highest mortality rates within the UK. They are slightly higher than England and Wales and more than double the rate of deaths recorded in Northern Irish prisons.

For every 100,000 inhabitants in Scotland there are 584.3 entries to a prison. This is extraordinarily high. The rate of entry in England and Wales is only 197.3 per 100,000 of the population. This puts us far beyond the European entry rate average of 167.3 people, giving Scotland the third highest entry rate of the 47 nations surveyed in the Council of Europe report. The entry rate does not reflect the number of individuals received into prison, but the total number of times someone enters a prison. So this can include the same individual receiving more than prison sentence in a year. This suggests that more people are being churned through the prison system more often than almost any other country.

Scotland releases people at a slower rate than the European average. In 2015, 31,300 people entered Scottish prisons and 16,700 people were released. This means Scotland has a turnover ratio of 42.6. This is below the European average of 52.3 and places us in the group of countries with the lowest turnover ratios. The Council of Europe warns that low turnover rates are potentially an indicator of future overcrowding.

Within the UK Scotland was recorded as having the highest percentage of females in the prison population (Scotland: 5.2%; England and Wales: 4.5%; Northern Ireland: 3.6%)

There was an average of 1494 people imprisoned as pre-trial detainees

Other important figures include:

The rate of releases per 100,000 people in national population was 311.8, which was far above the average of 135.1

Scotland is recorded as having one of the shortest average sentences at 2.9 months, this is below the European average of 9.8. Short sentences can help keep prisoner numbers low, but it can also be an indicator that prison is not being used a measure of last resort. However, since the presumption against short sentences was introduced in Scotland this figure is likley to have risen.

Scotland has a lower than average prisoner suicide rate, with 8.3% of deaths in Scottish prisons recorded as suicide.

Since the figures were collated Scotland’s prison population has dropped from 142 per 100,000 to 139. While this is welcome, the change is likely due to drop in the number of people being proceeded against by the courts rather than reflecting a change in prison policy. To make this change permanent and continuous requires policies that address Scottish punitive sentencing trends, cautious parole practices and long-term prisoner legislation.

Read more: SPACE I: Annual Penal Statistics in Europe for 2016

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