Proportion of jail sentences in Scotland reaches 10-year high

The proportion of sentences handed down in Scottish courts that involve prison time is at the highest level in a decade, official statistics have revealed, while the number of community sentences continues to fall.

Despite falling numbers of people being prosecuted, the proportion of prison sentences handed down in courts has rise

But the total number of people proceeded against in courts fell by six per cent to 89,733 in the year 2018-19, according to figures published by Scotland’s Chief Statistician today. This is the same as the fall in the number of people convicted, down six per cent to 78,503.

Scotland has one of the highest rates of imprisonment in the developed world, while its largest jail dates from the Victorian era and is 50 per cent over capacity.

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MSPs last month demanded “urgent action” to address the pressure on overcrowded prison north of the Border, with a report claiming that conditions in HMP Barlinnie were so poor that a contingency plan was needed in case it became uninhabitable.

The report from Holyrood’s public audit committee said an increase in demand and “10 years of capital under spend” were to blame for the pressures on the prison service.

Latest figures show that in contrast to the overall decrease in convictions, the number of custodial sentences given in court grew by two per cent in 2018-19 - the second lowest level since 2009-10, but the first rise seen since 2011-12.

With this rise, the proportion of sentences that are custodial has reached its highest level this decade at 16 per cent.

One sentencing expert described the drop in community sentences as “concerning”.

“The increase in custodial sentences may partly be explained by increases in convictions for rape, attempted rape and other sexual crimes, which can often result in imprisonment,” Dr Hannah Graham, a criminologist at the University of Stirling, told The Scotsman.

“Overall, Scotland has an unenviably high incarceration rate and overcrowded prisons.

“Yet custodial sentence lengths are increasing.

“It is concerning that community sentence numbers have fallen again – despite them being more effective, less expensive, and less harmful than imprisonment.”

“An increase in recorded police warnings suggests more minor or low level incidents are being dealt with using these warnings as an alternative to prosecution.”