In recent years, a pressing issue for both the UK and Scottish Governments has been the steadily increasing prison population. In particular, the rise in the male prison population.
In 2020, the average daily Scottish prison population was more than 8,100, the highest value since records began.
Over the past two decades, the average daily prison population has grown by 40%, primarily driven by an increasing male population, with more than 95% of the average daily prison population men.
Chart: Average daily prison population, Scotland, 2000 – 2020
Source: Scottish Government
One of the key contributing factors to this rise in the male prison population has been the continued number of individuals who reoffend after leaving prison.
In 2019-20, there were 32,912 individuals in the offender cohort, of which, 28% reoffended within a year of receiving an original conviction (the reconviction rate).
And even as the number of individuals committing offences and those reoffending has fallen in the past 10 years, the reconviction rate has not always followed the same trend.
Chart: Number of offenders and reconviction rate (%), Scotland, 1997 – 2019
Source: Scottish Government
High prison populations have a clear social cost through public expenditure, foregone earnings, the negative effects on prisoners’ welfare and the emotional damage for families of the convicted, and victims of crime. There are clear benefits for the individual, potential victims, the economy and society by reducing reoffending.
The largest share of individuals reoffending tends to be people committing more minor, less serious crimes and there is a clear role for support and rehabilitation to support these individuals beyond their prison sentence to prevent reoffending.
What is New Routes?
New Routes is programme that that provides one-to-one mentoring for individuals of all ages who are currently serving short term custodial sentences in all-male prisons across Scotland. The programme is operated by a Public Social Partnership, with the Wise Group, a social enterprise in Scotland, acting as lead partner in collaboration with Apex, Families Outside, Sacro and the Scottish Association of Mental Health.
The aim of the programme is to reduce reoffending and reconviction in Scotland by supporting individuals to reintegrate back into their communities beyond their prisons sentences and build meaningful lives through inclusion in society. Where appropriate, individuals are also supported to attain meaningful employment.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, the programme supported more than 1,589 prison-leavers transition back into their community. It provided effective support and throughcare to successfully reintegrate individuals back into society and away from a life of prison sentences.
The programme can assist with accommodation upon liberation, support with mental health, addiction and digital inclusion, and help individuals gain meaningful employment outwith the prison system.
What is the project?
The Wise Group have commissioned the Fraser of Allander Institute to analyse the effectiveness of New Routes in reducing reoffending and reconviction in Scotland.
This research forms part of a 4-year partnership with the Wise Group, a social enterprise that aims to help people out of poverty through one-to-one mentoring schemes, offering holistic means for people to change their lives within justice, employment and energy.
The research will be separated into strands. A PhD programme within the University of Strathclyde’s Economics Department will provide a granular analysis of outcomes for those who take part in the New Routes programme, both in terms of reconvictions and wider outcomes.
Alongside the PhD, a number of research reports looking at different aspects of the scheme will be published with an emphasis on translating data into meaningful measures of impact. The first report will focus on the ‘user journey’ of participants to understand how the programme has been built and the extent to which the programme is able to address the issues faced by those coming to the end of their sentence and leaving prison. Later reports will build on the results from the PhD analysis to quantify benefits to the public purse, the economy, and to wider society.
The research is underway, with the expectation of a first report published in Summer 2022. If you would like to find out more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find out more about the PhD here. Applications for the programme close on Thursday 31st March. If you have any questions, please contact email@example.com.
 A cohort contains offenders who either received a non-custodial conviction or were released from a custodial sentence in a given financial year from the 1st April to the 31st March the following year.
Emma is Deputy Director and Senior Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the Fraser of Allander Institute
Ben is an economist at the Fraser of Allander Institute working across a number of projects areas. He has a Masters in Economics from the University of Edinburgh, and a degree in Economics from the University of Strathclyde.
His main areas of focus are economic policy, social care and criminal justice in Scotland. Ben also co-edits the quarter Economic Commentary and has experience in business survey design and dissemination.