Reform needed for remand prisoners.

2 July 2013

We've all heard the cry of 'these prisons, they're like holiday camps' and stories of apparent 'luxuries' available at a moment's notice to prisoners, however, that in reality is not the case.  Imagine yourself, if you can, as a person on remand, already denied your liberty, then denied basic rights and entitlements which would make your life on remand more bearable.  Then if you are still unconvinced that this should matter, remember the maxim 'innocent until proven guilty' and that a percentage of these individuals will walk away from the Court process innocent of the crime they were accused of.

A report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons has found that many remand prisoners have a poorer quality of life and less support than sentenced prisoners, despite the fact that, in reality, they have greater rights and entitlements.  The Chief Inspector of Prisons has asked that the needs of remand prisoners should be better understood, and the existing rules for remand prisoners better applied.

The facts and figures show that 15% of the prison population are remand prisoners, which equates to 12-13,000 people in all.  The figures from 2007 showed that 17% of those whose cases proceeded to trial at the Magistrates' and Crown Courts were acquitted or not proceeded against, and 25% received non-custodial sentences.

The report found that remand prisoners were at increased risk of suicide or self harm, and over a third said they had mental health or drug problems.  In the female population there were increased concerns reported as to housing issues, finances and health, and issues as to the care of dependants.  Perhaps of most concern is that many remand prisoners showed little understanding of the support services available to them despite having gone through the initial induction process on entering prison, many feeling that they were given too much information at a time when they were least equipped to absorb and retain it.

The Prison Rules 1999 set out the rules on entitlements which are legally binding and are intended to recognise that these are unconvicted prisoners, however, prison governors do have discretion as to implementation.  Rights which were found not to be properly implemented at some of the prisons surveyed included the right of remand prisoners to vote.  Other issues were the difficulty in obtaining bail information, the fact that less than 50% spent less than 4 hours out of their cells each day,  and a lack of work and/or education available despite the majority of prisoners wanting to engage with it.

Remand prisoners also have rights to receive some benefits such as housing benefit whilst on remand, to pay their rent and thereby secure their accommodation.  However, there was evidence that the assistance for ensuring that they understand their rights and entitlements, and receive assistance where necessary to exercise them was lacking, with the prison staff themselves on occasion not being fully aware of remand prisoners rights.

Whatever your views on prisons and prisoners' rights, surely an innocent person has the right to be released feeling they have been treated fairly, and as well as, if not better, than a convicted prisoner.

The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide general interest about current legal issues.