Mid-nineteenth-century Scotland had a relatively equal distribution of punishment across men and women. About 1.9 men were in prison per woman in prison. Less comprehensive statistics from earlier in the nineteenth-century show even more equal sex distribution among Scottish prisoners. In the Glasgow bridewell in 1818, there were 160 men and 160 women.^ In 1820, Glasgow’s tolbooth and bridewell together held 200 male criminals and 151 female criminals.^ The sex ratio among persons transported was even more nearly equal (1.4 men per women) than the prisoner sex ratio. In contrast, the death penalty was administered highly disproportionately to men (about 16 men executed per woman executed). Overall, the sex ratio of Scots absent in punishment from 1840 to 1874 has median by year of 2.3 men per woman.
Life-disposing punishment was applied less unequally in the nineteenth century in Scotland than in England and Wales. The sex ratio of persons executed in the nineteenth-century in total was 16 men per woman in Scotland and 20 men per woman in England and Wales. The sex ratio of persons transported was 2.6 men per woman for Scotland and 7.3 men per woman for England and Wales. The sex ratio of the average number of persons in prison from 1840 (the start of Scottish prison data) to 1899 was 2.3 men per woman for Scotland and 5.0 men per woman for England and Wales. Overall, the median sex ratio of Scottish persons absent in punishment from 1840 to 1899 was less than half that in England and Wales.
The relatively equal sex ratio in punishment in Scotland was a result of a Scottish criminal justice system that differed significantly from England and Wales’ criminal justice system. In contrast to English common law, Scottish law is primarily based on Roman law. Scottish law also encompasses elements of Old Norse law and Celtic law. Under the 1707 Act of Union that created the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Scotland retained its distinctive legal system. In addition, Scotland, particularly Edinburgh, was a center of eighteenth-century Enlightenment thought. Enlightenment thought earlier and more strongly influenced Scottish penal practice than it did penal practice in England and Wales.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, life-disposing punishment was less prevalent and more rationalized in Scotland than in England and Wales. Enlightenment thinkers generally condemned capital punishment as cruel, unreasonable, and contrary to the public interest.^ In the 1780s, Scotland executed only about 13% as many offenders on a per capita basis as did England and Wales. Across the nineteenth century, Scotland executed on a per capita basis only 53% as many persons as did England and Wales. Transportation had a similar pattern of less prevalent punishment in Scotland than in England and Wales across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Robert Adam’s Edinburgh Bridewell, completed about 1795, was the first prison in Britain that followed Jeremy Bentham’s new rotunda model.^ Bentham was a leading penal rationalizer. Scotland centralized control over its prisons in 1839, more than twenty-five years before England and Wales did.
Despite these differences between the criminal justice systems in Scotland and England and Wales, Scotland paralleled England and Wales in a large increase in the prisoner sex ratio from 1920. By 1875, absence in punishment nearly exclusively consisted of persons in prison. From 1875 to 1920, the sex ratio of prisoners rose gradually, from 2.3 to 6.2 men per woman. The prisoner sex ratio then began rising rapidly. From 1965 to 1970, the prisoner sex ratio was about 33 men in prison per woman in prison. That sex ratio is more than ten times higher than the prisoner sex ratio in Scotland from 1840 to 1900.
From about 30 men in prison per woman in prison from 1960 to 2000, the prisoner sex ratio in Scotland declined rapidly. In 2010, based on the average daily number of prisoners, the prisoner sex ratio in Scotland was 17.1 men in prison per woman in prison. That’s rather different from the movement in the prisoner sex ratio in England and Wales. There the prisoner sex ratio began to decline from historic heights about 1970. In conjunction with influential penal policy advocacy, the prisoner sex ratio in England and Wales began rising in 2005 from 15 men per woman in prison. In 2010, the prisoner sex ratio in England and Wales, 19.0 men in prison per woman in prison, was higher than that in Scotland, 17.1 men in prison per woman in prison. Whether a policy-spurred trend toward more male-biased imprisonment re-emerges in Scotland remains to be seen. Just as in England and Wales, large sex inequality in imprisonment doesn’t seem to be an issue on the gender-equality agenda.