Jail inspector wants remand rethink

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 has said.

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.

"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," said Mr Hardwick.

"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."

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 Other rules have become outdated, it warned.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 (23%) of remand prisoners said they felt depressed or suicidal when they arrived at prison, more than a third said they had a drug (35%) or mental health problem (36%), and nearly half (47%) had problems obtaining bail information, the inspectors said.

More than half (58%) of unconvicted prisoners said they spent less than four hours out of their cell on a weekday and, while most wanted to take part in work or education, a lack of places and the prioritisation of sentenced prisoners meant some were unable to do so, the report added.

Women were over-represented and more reported housing problems, money worries and health concerns. One in seven (14%) said they had problems on arrival ensuring their children and dependants were looked after.