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Prison sentences getting longer, figures show

25 January 2011

Average prison sentences for all types of crime in Scotland are continuing the increase of recent years, according to new statistics released today.

The Criminal Proceedings statistics for 2009-10 show that sentence lengths for all crimes increased by 7% last year and are up 21% since 2006-07. Custodial sentences for homicide are at the highest average for a decade. The number of sentences actually imposed was down by 7% at 15,800, representing an unchanged 13% of all penalties imposed.

The average prison sentence for all crimes and offences was 281 days, up from 262 days in 2008-09. This does not include sentences for murder as all persons convicted of murder are given a life sentence.

The statistics also show:

  • the number of convictions for all types of crimes and offences reduced by 4% last year to 120,800, mirroring a similar drop in recorded crime;
  • there were greater than average decreases in convictions in a number of crime categories for which the police can now offer fixed penalty notices (e.g. vandalism and breach of the peace, each of which fell 12%);
  • convictions for handling an offensive weapon were down by 19%, following a 22% decrease in the number of such offences, while the average sentence handed down by the courts was nine months, more than double the level of four years before;
  • there was a 26% increase in anti-social behaviour fixed penalty notices handed out by police officers, to 61,000, covering offences such as consuming alcohol in a public place (43% of the total), breach of the peace (32%), and urinating in a public place (21%)
  • the use of fiscal fines was also down by 7%, to 35,600, from 38,200 in 2008-09.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "Sentencing is rightly a matter for individual sheriffs and judges based on the evidence before them, but they have my full support in handing out these longer sentences. The courts are sending out a clear message that if you commit serious crimes, you will be punished and you will face a lengthy prison sentence.

"The statistics we have seen this year show Scotland is becoming safer – crime is down, fear of crime is down, the number of people carrying out crime is down, and those that do break the law are being punished swiftly by Scotland's justice system."



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