More people are serving life sentences in Scotland as a proportion of the national population than in any other country in Europe. Yet, in many respects, 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. [---]