19 August 2011

Devolution's vaulting prison population...

The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 has a lot in it, including provision for a Scottish Sentencing Council, new offences, non-harassment orders. Of its measures, perhaps most prominently featured in public discussion surrounding the 2010 Act is the presumption against short term sentences which it enshrines. As you will recall, the SNP Government were in favour of a presumption against prison sentences shorter than six months. The cohort of Liberal Democrats, alas, were not to be persuaded and between them, the two compromised on supplementing the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 with the following provision:

"A court must not pass a sentence of imprisonment for a term of 3 months or less on a person unless the court considers that no other method of dealing with the person is appropriate."

Despite being passed by Holyrood in 2010, this section of the Act only came into force on the 1st of February 2011. It is important to bear this in mind, when considering the freshly-published statistical bulletin on the Prison Statistics 2010-11.  For me, one of the most interesting things about descriptive statistics of this sort is their capacity to surprise. Take the census, for example. I find that most Scots are surprised to discover that in 2001 only 15.88% of the population identified themselves as Catholic, imagining that the number would be far higher. And the prison population? I've been banging on about this for a number of years now, but how many of us really appreciate that since devolution, Scotland's average daily prison population has increased by around 2,000 people, increasing year on year until 2010? The graph below vividly illustrates how much has changed since 1900 - and depicts the substantial prisoner-hike of the Noughties...

As you'll see, this year, the daily prisoner numbers dip very slightly, to an average of 7,853 prisoners locked up in Scotland on a daily basis. Some of these are people on remand awaiting trial, others are awaiting sentencing, while others have been tried, sentenced and are serving out their punishments, and so on. Under the topline, there have been a number of changes.  Unsurprisingly, the population profile of our prisons is starkly gendered. Of the total, 7,419 are men compared to 435 women. That said, it's worth noting that while the male prison population has increased by 1,494 extra prisoners in daily lock-up since 2001, an increase of 25% over the decade, the percentage increase in the rates of female imprisonment, while lower in terms of the numbers of women locked up, are much greater percentage increases. The average female population of our prisons rose from 257 in 2001 to 435 in 2011 - an increase of 69% in ten years.

Sitting as we are in 2011, this bulletin clearly doesn't cover the whole year, so it remains to be seen what effect the presumption against short term sentences might have on how many folk we bang up. That said, at present, on average, only some 78 people in the daily population are serving sentences of less than three months, about 1% of the Scottish prison population. Admittedly, this is a small decrease on the 2009/10, where 89 souls were serving sentences of three months' extent.  Far more sentenced people fall within the 3 months to 6 month range. On average, 347 prisoners in 2010/11 were serving sentences within this range.  These are only the daily average figures.  Table 13 shows total direct receptions to penal establishments in Scotland (excluding those who are incarcerated for fine default), with data comparisons made from 2001 - 2010.  While a total of 13,109 people were directly sentenced to serve jail terms in 2010/11, 3,011 were sentenced to terms of three months of less - 413 for less than thirty days, 662 between 30 - 59 days, 1,344 people to between 60 - 89 days and 592 to 90 days/three months. The comparatively low figure of the daily average belies the potential impact the SNP's three months presumption might have on the much larger number of folk who spent short bursts in jail. As ever, we have pangs of international comparison. How do our rates of incarceration compare to elsewhere? The statisticians have generated this handy graphic. In 2010, incarceration rate per 100,000 population is as follows...

In other points of particular interest (at least to me), Table 4 shows "Offenders in custody by age, ethnic origin, religion and supervision level." Totalling 7,983 people, 3% of offenders in custody are recorded as being of non-white ethnic backgrounds.  Unfortunately, the data we have on the % of folk of different ethnicities in the Scottish population is now a decade old, hence the 2011 census. However, with caveats about potential demographic changes since in mind, it is interesting to compare the ethnic percentages of the prison population with the 2001 Census's findings about the Scottish population by ethnic group. The survey found that 97.99% of the Scottish population was white: Scots, British, Irish, Other.  The largest ethnic minority group were Pakistanis, representing 0.63% of the total population in 2001 and almost a third of Scotland's ethnic minority population, at 31.27%.  The second largest ethnic group were Chinese, at 0.32% of the total population and 16.04% of the ethnic minority population. Indian, the third at 0.3% and 14.79% respectively.  The Religion statistics have their own interest. 38% of offenders in custody identify as having no religion, with a small smattering of Jehovah's witnesses and Mormons.

I'll end on a controversial note. I've already mentioned that in the 2001 census, Catholics represented only 15.88% of the Scottish population.  In terms of offenders in custody, however, 23.3% are Catholics...


  1. Classic LPW: solid presentation of the figures and shrewd comments.

    That graph alone is a shocker.

  2. Thanks Edwin. As I was discussing with the Burd earlier this week, it is profoundly unfortunate that the press almost invariably stick to the "topline" results of these sorts of studies, barely heeding the (often much more) interesting details a bit further into them. Important things are all too easily missed, and go undiscussed.

  3. If represented on a Venn diagram the two seperate sets of statistics of prison and wider population could only have a probable, but not identifiabe, overlap.
    So comparison is of questionable value and validity.
    Poland, a Catholic country, doesn't feature on the tables shown.

  4. terrence,

    Perfectly fair for you to etch a note of caution when it comes to the interpretation of these figures. For myself, I absolutely was not attempting in this posting to make any sort of causal analysis, vis-à-vis the religious commitments of those in prison in Scotland.

  5. I remeber Kenny MacAskill saying once that a large slice of the prison population came from a relatively small number of postcode areas. I don't suppose they have published that information but I dare say we can guess where they are and most will be centred around Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Inverclyde and perhaps Ayrshire and the same areas will feature highli in measures of deprivation. That will explain the over-representation of Catholics too I imagine since historically Catholic immigrants settled in the poorest areas, which have remained the poorest areas.

    I don't think the same is true of Asian migrants, which probably helps explain why the proportion of prisoners frm an ethnic minority seems to be proportionate to the population as a whole. I would guess that is because immigrants from the sub-continet had to have a certain amount of money to begin with in order to be able to travel to the UK in the first place so many of them had the wherewithal to start up businesses etc, which provided employment for the rest.

  6. Indy,

    The number of prisoners in custody aren't distinguished by postcode - but the bulletin does contain a geographical breakdown of the local authority home areas of those in custody.

    For details, see Table 6 here.

  7. Maybe we need to jail a few more Pakistanis and Protestants.
    Or a few less Catholics.

    I do like LPW's reference to "the religious committments of those in prison Scotland."