THE average length of a prison sentence has reached its highest level in a decade.

According to figures, the average stretch behind bars in 2011/12 was more than nine months, at 284 days, one week longer than the previous year and up from 252 days in 2002/03.

For those convicted of handling an offensive weapon, the average sentence increased for the seventh year in a row, to 311 days, up from 112 days in 2002/03.

The Scottish Government pointed to the average length of sentence and welcomed the "tougher stance" being taken by courts.