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20 December 2012

Mockery made of “innocent until proven guilty”

Read our reaction to today’s report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons on remand prisoners.

Commenting on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons thematic review of remand prisoners, Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

People held on remand awaiting trial are innocent until proven guilty but the findings of this worrying review make a mockery of that principle. It’s clear that people remanded into custody are often held in worse conditions and receive less help and support than those convicted of a crime and serving a prison sentence.

An overuse of custodial remand has contributed to a system which in 2011 netted nearly 55,000 people, 11,500 of whom were subsequently acquitted and high numbers received a community penalty when their cases were finally heard in court.

The report reveals the impact of this rush to remand on an already over-stretched prison service. Remand prisoners must be held close to local courts and are often housed in large, overcrowded inner-city jails that are ill-equipped to meet their needs. Meanwhile sentenced prisoners are shipped from one prison to another, undermining efforts to reduce reoffending.

A disproportionate number of women, people from black and ethnic minorities and foreign nationals enter prison on remand. Remand prisoners have an increased risk of suicide and self harm and high numbers have a mental health, welfare, drug or alcohol problem. Despite these concerns, inspectors found that few remand prisoners were aware of the support services available to them and bail information was inadequate in many establishments.

Prison staff had a poor understanding of remand prisoners’ rights and entitlements and little was done to identify or address their specific needs and vulnerabilities. One remand prisoner told inspectors: ‘The staff treat us like criminals. The staff don’t even know who are remanded and who are sentenced.’

In an Olympic year, it is salutary to note that the excessive length and use of pre-trial detention is a major cause of overcrowding in prisons around the world and a key reason for the growth in the international prison population. While length of time on remand is better regulated in England and Wales than in many other countries, and numbers less excessive, it is clear that the government is failing to meet national and international obligations for the fair and proportionate treatment of people held in custody awaiting trial. The government has recently passed legislation to limit the unnecessary use of custodial remand. It should now act urgently to implement the Chief Inspector’s recommendations and ensure that treatment and conditions for people awaiting trial reflect their status as innocent until proven guilty.

Supported by the Persula Foundation, the Prison Reform Trust is working in consultation with the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) to produce clear and accurate information for people held on remand in England and Wales.

Press coverage:


the Guardian

The Telegraph

the Guardian (comment)