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Remand prisoners – treated worse than sentenced prisoners

August 7, 2012, 6:26 pm

Many remand prisoners had a poorer regime and less support than sentenced prisoners, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing a short thematic review.

This is despite a long-established principle that remand prisoners, who have not been convicted or sentenced by a court, have rights and entitlements not available to sentenced prisoners.

At any one time, remand prisoners make up about 15% of the prison population, between 12,000 to 13,000 prisoners. Women and those from black and minority ethnic and foreign national backgrounds are over-represented. This review, Remand Prisoners, examines the experience of young adult and adult remand (unconvicted and convicted unsentenced) prisoners in local prisons against the Inspectorates four health prison tests: safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement.

The report found that:

  • remand prisoners are at an increased risk of suicide and self-harm and nearly a quarter said they had felt depressed or suicidal when they arrived at prison;
  • a third or more said they had a drug or mental health problem;
  • problems on arrival were exacerbated among women, with a higher self-reported incidence of housing problems, money worries and health concerns;
  • women were more likely to report problems with ensuring dependants were being looked after; and
  • remand prisoners showed little awareness of support services available at the prison and, while most had received an induction, many felt they had been given too much information to absorb at a turbulent time.

The Prison Rules 1999 set out legally binding entitlements for remand prisoners which recognise they have not been convicted or sentenced. Within Prison Service policy, discretion is permitted to governors on implementing these entitlements. Prison Service policy permits remand prisoners to share cells with sentenced prisoners if they have consented, while the Prison Rules appear to suggest that remand and sentenced prisoners should not be required to share a cell. The report also found that:

  • sharing cells with sentenced prisoners was the norm, but few recalled being asked for their consent;
  • prisoners in survey groups and staff the inspectors spoke to had limited or no knowledge of the entitlements of remand prisoners;
  • the right of remand prisoners to vote had not been facilitated at two of the five prisons visited;
  • nearly half of remand prisoners surveyed reported difficulties with obtaining bail information;
  • prisoners felt more use could be made of the video link facility for court appearances;
  • over half of unconvicted prisoners said they spent less than four hours out of their cell on a weekday;
  • most remand prisoners said they wanted to take part in work or education, but a lack of places and/or the prioritisation of sentenced prisoners meant some were unable to do so;
  • remand prisoners are entitled to certain state benefits intended to mitigate the impact of their imprisonment while they await a verdict, but those inspectors spoke to had little or no awareness of this; and
  • although remand prisoners’ welfare needs were assessed on arrival, little was done to follow these up and address identified needs.

Nick Hardwick said:

‘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. This is not just a question of addressing injustice in the treatment of individuals, 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.’

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