Interactive: a beginner’s guide to prisons in Scotland

Key stats & facts on prisons and an interactive map to boot

Castle St Andrews Flag Scotland

A beautiful castle in Scotland. Sadly HMP Castle Huntly is a far cry from this idyll. Source: Bernard Blanc

The courts, prisons and criminal justice system are devolved powers in Scotland, so they are run separately to the England and Wales service. The Scottish Prison Service – or Seirbheisean nam prìosan Albanach in Scottish Gaelic – is an executive agency of the Scottish Government, which manages Her Majesty’s Prisons in addition to Her Majesty’s Young Offender Institutions.

Here’s a crash course on all things Scottish justice.

Where are Scotland’s prisons?

Scotland has 15 institutions, which include male, female, community-facing and young offenders’ institutes. Although the prison capacity is not quite 100 per cent, many of the prisons are still overcrowded. This can be due to a lack of beds in the approrpriate category of prison.

Click on the image for an interactive map with the locations and info on all prisons in Scotland.

Interactive map prisons Soctland

Click on the image for an interactive map with the locations and info on all prisons in Scotland.

Who is in prison?

Here is a rundown of all the vital figures for the Scottish prison system, provided by Prison Studies.

Category Latest figures
Number of establishments / institutions 15
Official capacity of prison system 8,069
Prison population total (including pre-trial detainees / remand prisoners) 7,474
Prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population) 140
Occupancy level (based on official capacity) 95.7%
Pre-trial detainees / remand prisoners (percentage of prison population) 19.4%
Female prisoners (percentage of prison population) 5.3%
Juveniles / minors / young prisoners (percentage of prison population) 0.7%
Foreign prisoners (percentage of prison population) 3.7%

How have the prison numbers in Scotland changed?

Like in England and Wales, the prison population has more or less steadily increased since 1980.

Prison population totals scotland

Prison population totals
Scotland, 1985 – 2012. Credit: Prison Studies

According to the Scottish government, the increase in the sentenced population is primarily due to the rise in sentences between three months and two years. Another contributing factor is more modest increases for the life sentence and recall populations.

As well as the overall population in prison, population rates have risen too. The number of people in Scottish prisons passed 8,000 for the first time in August 2008 and reached its record level of 8,420 on 8 March 2012.

Prison population rates scotland

Prison population rates
Scotland, 1985 – 2012. Credit: Prison Studies

Police records show that the volume of crime in Scotland was 40 per cent lower in 2014/13 than it was 2004/05.

Crimes recorded by the police in Scotland, 2004-05 to 2013-14

There has been a steady drop in the volume of crime since 2004/05. Chart: Prison Watch UK. Data:

Politicians promise to tackle crime with ‘tough on crime’ strategies of harsh prison sentences. But the link between a fall in crime rates and a rise in prison populations is disputed. According to the National Audit Office, there is no consistent correlation between prison numbers and levels of crime.

Who are the personnel of the law in Scotland?

The head of criminal prosecutions is the Lord Advocate, currently Frank Mulholland. The Solicitor General assists the head of criminal prosecutions, who is currently Lesley Thomson. The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service prosecute crime, their roles are the Scottish equivalent to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service in England.

Did you enjoy this post on Scottish prisons? Check out 8 things you didn’t know about the Scottish justice system

TWITTER: @prisonwatchuk

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