UK

Chief Inspector of Prisons urges jail remand overhaul

  • 2 August 2012
  • From the section UK
Prison cell at Wormwood Scrubs
Image caption Remand prisoners are supposed to have certain rights not afforded to convicted inmates

The way prisoners on remand in England and Wales are held should be changed to improve fairness and reduce costs, a report has said.

Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, said in a report that remand prisoners were treated less well than convicted inmates.

The rule that they should not be housed with convicted inmates was not being observed in practice, he added.

The prison service said it was addressing issues in the report.

'Forgotten'

Mr Hardwick said remand prisoners were often treated worse than other inmates, even though there was a long-standing principle that those on remand should have rights and entitlements not available to convicted prisoners.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said remand prisoners often got "less help" preparing for life after their release.

Mr Hardwick said remand prisoners received fewer entitlements "because they have not been found guilty they simply don't get things like visits, letters, and the ability to see their solicitor".

There were two reasons for this, he continued: "One is because I think often prison officers don't know the rules that apply to remand prisoners. And secondly, they simply get muddled up in the general population, so even if prison officers do know the rules, they sometimes don't know who the remand prisoners are."

"One of the things you need is a much clearer way of distinguishing between remand and convicted prisoners, for instance some prisons would have a remand wing and they would keep them separately."

Mr Hardwick said he believed the problem had simply "slipped off the agenda", and seemed as though people had actually "forgotten" remand prisoners were there at all.

"There are some costs involved, but fundamentally this is an organisational issue. We want [prisons] to organise the system differently so remand prisoners can be distinguished and so people know who they are and make sure they get what they are entitled to."

Welfare service

The report is based on inspection reports for 33 local prisons, fieldwork in five jails, and focus groups with remand prisoners and managers.

It found an "unresolved disjuncture" between prison rules and what happened in practice, warning that several rules have become outdated.

Inspectors found that while the Prison Rules 1999 set out legally binding entitlements for remand prisoners, appearing to suggest remand and sentenced prisoners should not be required to share a cell under any circumstances, Prison Service policy gave discretion to governors and sharing mixed cells was "the norm".

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

Nearly a quarter of remand prisoners reported feeling depressed or suicidal when they arrived but the report said they had problems accessing welfare services.

Some remand prisoners found it difficult to maintain contact with solicitors and attend education courses.

Others were restricted from exercising their right to wear their own clothes and to vote in elections.

Acquittal rates

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 also found almost a fifth of defendants held on remand were acquitted, and nearly a quarter were handed a non-custodial sentence.

Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said: "This report has raised some important issues which we are addressing.

"Our existing policies recognise the distinction between remand and sentenced prisoners and set out the privileges and entitlements that reflect remand prisoners' status.

"We have already taken action to reinforce requirements on cell sharing and access to work for remand prisoners."

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