Call for end to ‘unjust’ treatment of remand prisoners

The way defendants are held on remand in jail should be overhauled to ensure costly prison places are not being used unnecessarily, the Chief Inspector of Prisons said yesterday.

Nick Hardwick said remand prisoners receive less support and help than sentenced inmates, have an increased risk of suicide and report poorer access to services and an inferior regime.

Each prison place costs an average of £40,000 a year with between 12,000 and 13,000 prisoners held on remand for an average of nine weeks.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“They have either not been convicted or are yet to be sentenced and there is a long-standing principle that they should be accorded rights and entitlements that are not available to convicted and sentenced prisoners,” Mr Hardwick said. “Yet far from being treated more favourably, this thematic review has shown that they all too often receive less support and help than convicted and sentenced prisoners.

“This is not just a question of addressing injustice in the treatment of the individuals concerned, but ensuring that costly prison places are not used unnecessarily and that everyone is given the chance to leave prison less likely to commit offences than when they arrived.”

Mr Hardwick went on: “The specific circumstances and needs of remanded prisoners need to be much more clearly and consistently recognised so that they are held in custody for the shortest time possible and while there are given at least the same support as convicted and sentenced prisoners.”

The report, based on inspection reports for 33 local prisons, fieldwork in five jails and focus groups with remand prisoners and managers, also found an “unresolved disjuncture” between prison rules and what actually happened. Other rules have become outdated, it warned.

While the Prison Rules 1999 set out legally binding entitlements for remand prisoners, which appeared to suggest that remand and sentenced prisoners should under no circumstances be required to share a cell, Prison Service policy gave discretion to governors and sharing mixed cells was “the norm”, the inspectors found.

Almost a quarter of remand prisoners said they felt depressed or suicidal when they arrived at prison, more than a third said they had a drug or mental health problem, and nearly half had problems obtaining bail information, the inspectors said.

The report called for a “comprehensive review of strategies and policies”, saying it should ensure the treatment and conditions for remand prisoners was “consistent with their unconvicted and unsentenced status”.

Their rights and entitlements should also be clarified and they should be held in cells, and on wings, separate from convicted prisoners, “except in exceptional circumstances”.

Vicki Helyar-Cardwell, director of the Criminal Justice Alliance, added that the report showed “the deeply shocking way that remand prisoners continue to be treated in prison”.

“We should remember that many remand prisoners go on to be acquitted or given a non-custodial sentence, but often their time in prison breaks links with their families, may have cost them their job and has certainly caused huge disruption to their lives,” she said.