Justice Committee Remand Report

Justice Committee Remand Report

Yesterday the Justice Committee published its report on remand. This is an important and timely review. We know that in 2017 18.7% of the daily average prison population was made up of people on remand, and the large majority of those people were not found guilty of any offence, but remanded awaiting trial. In fact, 15% of the Scottish prison population are remanded into custody without conviction. The high rates of remand are one of the causes of Scotland's staggeringly high prison population, and therefore remand contributes to Scotland’s reputation as one of Western Europe’s most punitive nations. In England and Wales the use of remand is dropping (where 11% of the prison population is on remand), but in Scotland the remand population has been steadily increasing for decades. [1] Furthermore, the Scottish courts use of alternatives to remand custody, such as supervised bail, have been falling.[2]

Remand is incredibly damaging, it disrupts people's lives (interrupting or even cancelling work contracts, rent or benefits, for example), can undermine their prospects and impact detrimentally upon their family. In addition, the remand prison regime is most often bereft of the education, work and support services and purposeful activities that other prisoners engage in. Moreover, remand prisoners are given less post-prison support than convicted prisoners.

The key issues the report highlighted include:

  •  Scotland’s courts frequently rely on remand to detain people, yet a high proportion of these people do not go on to receive a custodial sentence. Therefore, even if found guilty, they likely have not committed a crime whereby imprisonment for public protection or punishment is deemed necessary, undermining justifications for remand.
  • 70% of women on remand will not go onto receive a sentence; 71% of accused people remanded in solemn proceedings will go onto receive a prison sentence; but only 42% of those people remanded before trial in summary proceedings will receive a custodial sentence.
  • Instead, it appears remand is being employed as a method to ensure people who are accused turn up for their court appearance. For instance, it seems that a person who is homeless, and thus is already more vulnerable and marginalised, is more likely to receive remand.
  • A period of remand can also cause homelessness. People can lose their tenancy while on remand. While people in custody can register as homeless two months before they leave the prison, this is made more difficult for remand prisoners who have little idea when their release date will be.
  • Currently, there is no consistent database that monitors the reasons prisoners are remanded into custody so frequently in Scotland.
  • Remand is economically, personally and socially costly. It is at least as disruptive as a short term sentence, which Scotland has committed to using as a measure of last resort given that short sentences are recognised to be counterproductive as a deterrent and a desistance intervention. 
  • What are the alternatives to remand? The report suggests electronic monitoring, supervised bail and mentoring as possible routes to divert people out of an unnecessary and destructive period of custody. 
  • Some people feel that remand can be a perverse positive, however. Prison is percieved by some as a place for safety and stability where people can access services not available in the community. 

Remand is a major issue in need of penal reform. In many ways, ending remands and reducing our prison population appears simple, but as the report also reveals, remand is justified not as a punitive tactic but as a coercive social support of last resort. However, the prison should never be used as an alternative to welfare interventions in the community. If this is the case, then solutions that can drastically reduce remand must focus on early intervention, social welfare support and diversion. While the prison may be able to provide some limited forms of support, overuse of the prison is always harmful for social relations, causes stigma for individuals and can severely damage family life. It is the most severe punishment the state can deploy against people who have committed a crime. Therefore, it should never be used (1) as a means to address a gap in welfare and community provision; nor should it be used (2) against citizens who have not been found guilty of a crime.

Read the report here: An Inquiry into the Use of Remand in Scotland

[1] http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/Bromley%20Briefings/Autumn%202017%20factfile.pdf 
[2} http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2017/02/2907/12

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