Scotland has highest prison population rate per head in Western Europe

Scotland has the highest prison population rate per head in Western Europe, with 150 people held in prison for every 100,000 of the population, according to a new report.

Meanwhile, in England and Wales there were more than 140,000 admissions into prison in 2017—the highest number in western Europe, according to report Prison: the facts, which reveals that, despite the number falling in recent years, England and Wales still have over 40,000 more admissions to prison than Germany, the second-highest—which has a significantly larger national population.

The comparative figures are taken from the latest available Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics.

The rate of prison admissions, which accounts for the effects of differences in national populations, shows that England and Wales have a rate approximately three times that of Italy and Spain, and almost twice as high as Germany, with 238 prison admissions for every 100,000 people.

The UK as a whole continues to be an outlier in western Europe in its use of custody, with significantly higher prison populations than other countries. Scotland’s prison population rate per head, 150 per 100,000 of the population, is closely followed by England and Wales, with 139 per 100,000. Northern Ireland by contrast imprisons 76 per 100,000.

Scotland also has the highest proportion of probationers under supervision for “offences against persons” in all of Europe.

The number of people in prison is predicted by the Ministry of Justice to rise further, as sentence lengths and custody rates continue to increase. More than two and a half times as many people were sentenced to 10 years or more in 2018 than in 2006, despite levels of serious crime being substantially lower.

England and Wales also have the highest number of indeterminate prisoners (9,441) in western Europe by a significant margin—more than Germany, Russia, Italy, Poland, Netherlands and Scandinavia combined.

More than 7,000 people are currently in prison as a result of being recalled to prison from licence—in 1995 that figure was around 150.

The report also reveals that many British prisons remain overcrowded. Latest figures show that two-thirds (81 out of 120) of prisons in England and Wales were overcrowded and that we also choose to send people to prison for a long time, and this is a trend. More than two and a half times as many people were sentenced to serve 10 years or more in 2018 than in 2006.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: “These figures show the scale of the challenge that we face in breaking our addiction to imprisonment. Planned measures to limit the use of short sentences, and correcting failed reforms to probation are both steps in the right direction.

“But our shamefully high prison population rates won’t be solved by these alone—a public debate about how we punish the most serious crime is overdue.”

Tags: prison

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