Reconviction rates in Scotland at lowest level for 18 years

Written by Jenni Davidson on 2 May 2017 in News

Statistics published today show that the reconviction rate decreased by 4.3 percentage points in a decade

Prison guard - Image credit: Press Association Images

The percentage of offenders reconvicted within a year is at an 18 year low, according to statistics for 2014-15 published today by Scotland’s chief statistician.

The overall reconviction rate decreased by 4.3 percentage points from 32.5 per cent to 28.2 per cent between 2005-06 and 2014-15.

This continues a downward trend, with a 19 per cent fall in the reconviction rate since 1997-98.

However, for the second year in a row there was a rise in the percentage of under-21s who reoffended within a year, and this age group continued to have the highest reconviction rate, although it is 7.1 percentage points lower than in 1997-98.


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As well as the decrease in the overall reconviction rate, the figures also show a decrease of 16.7 per cent in the average number of reconvictions per offender within a year between 2005-06 and 2014-15.

Offenders who committed a crime of dishonesty had the highest number of reconvictions per offender whereas offenders who committed a sexual crime had the lowest number of reconvictions.

The average number of reconvictions per offender also differs by the type of sentence they receive, as well as the length of sentence for custodial sentences.

Offenders given a Drug Treatment and Testing Order had the highest average number of reconvictions per offender – 1.71 in 2014-15 compared to an average of 0.85 for those released from custodial sentences and 0.35 for those who received a fine.

The reconviction statistics also show that offenders released from custodial sentences were more likely to reoffend than those given a Community Payback Order (CPO).

Short custodial sentences had higher reoffending rates than longer ones, with 57 per cent of those in prison for six months or less reconvicted within a year.

However, the report warns that caution is needed when comparing reconvictions between different types of sentence, as different sentences are given for different types of offences, which are themselves likely to affect reconviction rates.

It suggests the difference in reconviction rates for short custodial sentences may be explained by the fact that they are typically given for relatively low level crimes such as shoplifting that are more likely to be carried out in higher volumes and lead to reconvictions.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “These figures show we are continuing to make good progress on tackling reoffending – a key goal of this government’s justice strategy.

“The continued fall in reconvictions is down to hard work from partners across Scottish justice, working together to prevent offending and keep our communities safe.

“This is further evidence to back up our position that robust community sentences, particularly CPOs, are more effective at reducing reoffending than short custodial sentences.

“I want to see a Scotland where people are held to account for their offending behaviour, but are also given the opportunity to address the underlying causes of their offending behaviour and become contributing citizens in their communities.

“Our new model for community justice encourages that approach through its fundamental focus on preventing and reducing reoffending.”

However, the Scottish Liberal Democrats highlighted the reoffending rates for those given short-term sentences and repeated previous calls for the Scottish Government to raise the presumption against short-term sentences to from three to 12 months.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP said: “The drop in reconvictions is, of course, a good thing but it only tells half the story.

“The fact remains that more than half of those given short-term prison sentences are reconvicted within a year.

“This is yet more evidence that disruptive, short-term prison sentences are less effective at rehabilitating people than robust, community-based sentences.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have consistently called for the presumption against short-term sentences to be raised to 12 months from the current three.

“This is backed by independent experts and reinforced by today’s statistics.

“If the Justice Secretary is serious about reducing reoffending he should quit stalling and finally adopt this new policy.”

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