THE number of people locked up in Scotland’s jails without being convicted of a crime reached a record high last year, with almost one in four prisoners still awaiting trial.

New official figures showed the overall prison population was stable at around 7,500 in 2021/22, however the number of remand prisoners jumped 14 per cent. 

The average daily population of prisoners on remand rose from 1,634 to 1,862, while the average daily population of sentenced prisoners fell from 5,658 to 5,597.

On the average day in 2021/22, around 25% of the prison population were held on remand – the largest proportion on remand on record.

Almost half of young people in custody were on remand last year.

The increase in remand prisoners coincided with a post-Covid backlog in criminal trials.

All the growth in the average daily remand population from 2020/21 to 2021/22 was in just three of the alleged offence groups – violence (up 9% to 989), sexual crimes (+23% to 209) and crimes against society (+34% to 386), which include drug and weapon possession. 

Around 60% of the average daily remand population in 2021/22 were accused of index violent and sexual offences, with 21% accused of crimes against society offences.

The time prisoners spent on remand also increased last year.

The median spell remained 22 days, but whereas 90% of remand departures took place within 109 days in 2020/21, in 2021/22 that 90% mark took 139 days to reach.

This continues an upward trend seen since 2017/18, when 90% of remand departures occurred within 63 days.

The main offence profile of the average daily sentenced population continued to change in 2021-22. 

The sentenced population with index offences of violence, sexual crimes and anti-social offences increased, driven by increases in common assault (+12% to 541), rape and attempted rape (+8% to 721), and threatening and abusive behaviour (+12% to 204). 

Populations with index offences in the other groups fell slightly or remained stable.

The proportion of the average daily sentenced population with an index violent or sexual crime offence rose to 65% in 2021/22 (+2%), with the proportion serving an index sentence of less than 4 years below pre-pandemic levels at 45%, compared to 53% in 2019/20.

The average daily population of women in prison continued to fall in 2021/22 (-5% from 298 in 2020/21 to 282), while the average daily population of men increased (+3% to 7,220). 

The fall in the women’s population was driven by a 7% reduction in the sentenced population (from 213 in 2020/21 to 198 in 2021/22). 

The population of women on remand remained stable between 2020/21 and 2021/22. 

The combined effect was an increase in the proportion of women on remand on the average day, rising from 28% in 2020/21 to 30% in 2021/22.

The population of under-21s in custody continued to fall overall, from 215 in 2020/21 to 188 in 2021/22. 

This change was a result in a 19% reduction in the sentenced population, while average numbers on remand each day fell only slightly. 

This led to an increase in the proportion of young people on remand, from 44% in 2020/21 to 48% in 2021/22.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur accused the Scottish Government of allowing the justice system to grind to a halt.

He said: “Increasing numbers are being held without a trial having taken place. 

"That’s bad for both those accused and for their victims who are prevented from seeing justice done. 

“It is time to tackle the huge backlog of cases clogging up our court system.  

"Scottish Liberal Democrats have set out common sense policies that will make our communities safer. That means driving down the use of remand and ensuring that both accused and victims get their day in court. 

“Scottish prisons are facing record overcrowding and spiralling rates of self-harm. Proper investment in bail supervision orders and electronic tagging could mean that remand is only used where it is necessary to safeguard communities and public safety.” 

SNP Justice Secretary Keith Brown said: “While overall prison population levels have risen just 1% year on year, it is clear more needs to be done to ensure use of custody is very much a last resort, especially when dealing with people not convicted of any offence.

“While prison is always needed for serious offences, we continue to take forward action aimed at reducing the use of imprisonment and increasing the use of community-based interventions.

“That includes the Bail and Release from Custody Bill, introduced in June this year, which proposes to refocus how remand is used and improve support for people leaving prison, placing a greater emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration.”

He also said measures to tackle Scotland’s courts backlog are having “positive impact”.

The Justice Secretary added: “We provided an additional £50 million in 2021-22, and a further £53.2 million for 2022-23, so that cases involving all accused, including those on remand, can be progressed and justice can be carried out in each case.

“Measures in place to address the backlog are having a positive impact. The total number of scheduled trials outstanding has reduced each month in 2022, and has fallen by over 12,000 since January.

“We also continue to strengthen the provision of credible alternatives to remand – for example we announced an additional £3.2 million to strengthen alternatives to remand earlier this year which will be targeted at bail provision.”