Page last updated at 13:40 GMT, Friday, 27 November 2009

Scotland's prison population rises by 6%

Scotland's prison population increased by 6%

Scotland's prison population has continued to rise, according to new national statistics.

The figures showed the average daily prison population in the year to March was 7,835, up by 6% on the previous year and 31% over the past 10 years.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said prison would always be the right punishment for those involved in serious crime.

But he said simply building more prisons was not the answer.

Scotland's chief statistician revealed that the majority of the prison population were sentenced prisoners.

The most recent average daily figure for prisoners held on remand was 1,678 for the year from April 2008 to the end of March.

This was an increase of 8% over the previous year's figure of 1,560, indicating an on-going rising trend in the remand population.

Reconviction statistics published earlier this year show just how many offenders are going inside for a short period of time, coming out to reoffend and then going back inside
Kenny MacAskill
Justice Secretary

On 30 June 2008, the crime category with the largest population of sentenced prisoners was non-sexual violent crime (37%), followed by drugs-related crimes (14%).

The 2008-09 average daily female prison population was 413, an 11% increase from 371 in 2007-08.

The female prison population has shown a disproportionate increase of 97% over the past 10 years.

The number of prisoners serving sentences of six months or less has decreased, the statistics said.

Speaking during a visit to HMP Inverness, Mr MacAskill said: "Prison, if necessary for a long time, will always be the right punishment for those involved in serious crime and those who are a danger to our communities.

"That is why we are investing £120m each year in our prison estate, including the building of three new prisons.

"But we cannot and will not build even more prisons to fill them with those for whom prison is not the right answer."

'Revolving door'

He said short sentences of six months or less did nothing to stop offending behaviour.

"Reconviction statistics published earlier this year show just how many offenders are going inside for a short period of time, coming out to reoffend, and then going back inside," he added.

"We need to close that revolving door of reoffending.

"And to do that we need to tackle the underlying causes of crime - drink, drugs and deprivation."

In response to the increase in the prison population, John Lamont, the Conservative spokesman on community safety said:

"Prison numbers will only be properly cut when crime is cut.

"Prison serves four important functions: to deter criminals, to protect the public, to punish and to rehabilitate.

"All four matter and we have to have the political will to make prison work.

'Soft touch'

He said that in the SNP's Scotland, people have to be very unlucky to end up in jail.

He added: "The prime duty of government is to protect the public. The SNP is guilty of a dereliction of that duty."

Scottish Labour's justice spokesman Richard Baker said: "Kenny MacAskill's soft touch approach is not deterring criminals and his management of the prison estate has been woeful.

"Why was the build of Low Moss prison delayed? Why is he closing Craiginches prison in Aberdeen?

"Mr MacAskill is looking to weaken the criminal justice system and that is not the right approach for dealing with any category of offender. "

A Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman said that rising prisoner numbers shows the "failure" of jail as a deterrent.

He added: "Prison has little effect as a rehabilitative force either. Most prisoners are re-offenders."

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