Research Output
The Paradox Of Scottish Life Imprisonment
  More people are serving life sentences in Scotland as a proportion of the national population than in any other country in Europe. Yet Scotland claims to adopt a welfarist rather than a penal approach to criminal justice. This paper uses a wide range of data to explain the factors underpinning this paradox. It focuses on key aspects of the imposition and implementation of life sentences, providing, for the first time, an analysis that goes behind headline figures. The paper concludes that, notwithstanding the commitment to welfare in penal policy, the high rate of life imprisonment is driven by both increased punitiveness and attempts to reduce the risk that serious crime poses to society. Finally, the paper outlines strategies for reducing the use of life imprisonment, which may be more effective because they pay close attention to the Scottish penal context, but which have relevance for other jurisdictions seeking to reverse penal excess.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    03 March 2020

  • Publication Status:


  • DOI:


  • ISSN:


  • Library of Congress:

    K Law

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    365 Penal & related institutions

  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Van Zyl Smit, D., & Morrison, K. (2020). The Paradox Of Scottish Life Imprisonment. European Journal of Crime, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, 28(1), 76-102.



Life imprisonment; Scotland; sentencing; penal reform; Orders for Lifelong Restriction

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