The criminal justice system is failing the ever rising number of remand prisoners in England and Wales, which is at its highest level for 50 years, MPs have warned.
The House of Commons justice committee says the increase, and rise in length of time spent on remand, has been fuelled by the backlog in the courts and insufficient community provision for people with vulnerabilities.
In a report, published on Monday, it says remand prisoners face similar challenges to the wider prison population in areas including mental health, addiction and maintaining contact with family, but are not sufficiently supported, whether in jail or on release. It criticises the fact that people found not guilty at trial after remand are not entitled to any support at all – such as resettlement – on release.
Remand prisoners, many of whom will be found innocent, are often in custody beyond the statutory six-month limit, with recent figures showing that 770 prisoners have been held on remand awaiting trial for over two years, while entire jails are becoming dedicated to remand prisoners by default, the report says.
The committee chair, Sir Bob Neill, said: “Custodial remand is a necessary tool in the justice system for protecting the public from dangerous offenders or ensuring those at risk of absconding are brought to trial. But too often it is being used as an easy option in cases of low-level repeat offending or social problems, with little thought for the lasting consequences this can have on the individual.
“Depriving someone of their liberty under any circumstances can mean losing employment, accommodation and familial contact. For this to happen when an individual is yet to be convicted of a crime is a serious measure and should not be taken lightly. Yet those subject to remand are not given adequate support to mitigate these effects.”
The committee says it is concerned by the high number of women placed on remand despite often posing a low risk to the public and that many will not go on to receive a custodial sentence. To reduce the remand population, the MPs call for use of non-custodial alternatives to be increased and for trial dates to be brought forward but express concern that it could rise further as a result of higher police numbers and a return to pre-pandemic case levels.
In a separate report published on Monday, HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) said a prison that released up to two high-risk sex offenders a month was failing to prepare inmates effectively for the community. Prisoners at HMP Isle of Wight were not always identified or discussed ahead of their release to make sure risk management plans were robust, HMIP said. It found acute staffing shortages had slowed progress to deliver programmes at pre-pandemic levels and included a severe lack of qualified psychologists.
Inspectors were concerned that one in five prisoners left the prison, which holds about 1,000 prisoners – almost all convicted of sexual offences – without a sustainable place to live. Only 30 prisoners had completed an offending behaviour programme for those convicted of sexual offences.
Charlie Taylor, the chief inspector of prisons, said: “HMP Isle of Wight is a training prison – its primary purpose is to support rehabilitation and prepare prisoners for release including those who pose a high risk of harm to the public but it’s failing to do so.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “All remand prisoners can access education, drug treatment and mental health support, and we have increased this support by training more than 25,000 staff in suicide and self-harm prevention. We are also reforming the law so people cannot be remanded solely for their own protection on mental health grounds.”
They added that remanded defendants are waiting 15 weeks for trial on average.