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'Scandal' as Scottish jails quarter-filled with remand prisoners waiting trial or sentencing

Daily Record logo Daily Record 16/11/2022 Chris McCall
A record number of prisoners in Scottish jails are being held on remand © 2020 SNS Group A record number of prisoners in Scottish jails are being held on remand

The number of inmates in Scottish prisons who have neither been tried or sentenced has reached a record level.

Official figures show that on an average day in the last 12 months a quarter of all prisoners in jail were on remand - double the number in March 2020.

Prison reform campaigners branded the figure a "scandal" while the Lib Dems said SNP ministers had allowed the justice system to effectively grind to a halt.

The average daily prisoner population for 2021-22 was 7,504 – up from 7,339 the previous year. But the average number of remand prisoners – those awaiting either trial or sentencing – increased by about 14 per cent from 1,634 in 2020-21 to 1,862.

Howard League Scotland, which campaigns for prison reform, said the country was "completely out of step" with the rest of the UK and Europe when it came to the use of remand.

Keith Brown, the justice secretary, said it was clear "more needs to be done to ensure use of custody is very much a last resort".

A Howard League Scotland spokeswoman told the Record: "The scandal of remand is not new.

"While shocking, these figures are not surprising and have repeatedly been brought to the Government's attention by Howard League Scotland, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland and others.

"Scotland is completely out of step with the rest of the United Kingdom and most of Europe in terms of our approach to remand.

"Proposed legislation may go some way to addressing this, but it's not going to solve the immediate problem of people being held for considerable periods of time without charge, in over-crowded conditions, with limited access to any purposeful activity.

"The majority of them won't go on to serve a prison sentence and will be released without access to financial, housing or health support.

"Prison should only be used where it's necessary for the protection of the public. That's not what's happening at the moment and we need to do something about it without delay.

The spokeswoman added: "Recent research with the judiciary made it crystal clear that a lack of practical and financial resources was the single biggest barrier to greater use of alternatives to remand.

"That means that a concern that there wasn't sufficient community-based social work provision or supported bail accommodation, for example, would significantly influence their decision-making in whether to remand or bail the accused."

Liam McArthur, Scottish Lib Dems justice spokesman, said: "Increasing numbers are being held without a trial having taken place. That’s bad for both those accused and for their victims who are prevented from seeing justice done.

"It is time to tackle the huge backlog of cases clogging up our court system.

"We have set out common sense policies that will make our communities safer. That means driving down the use of remand and ensuring that both accused and victims get their day in court.

"Scottish prisons are facing record overcrowding and spiralling rates of self-harm. Proper investment in bail supervision orders and electronic tagging could mean that remand is only used where it is necessary to safeguard communities and public safety."

Keith Brown, the Scottish Government justice secretary, said: "While overall prison population levels have risen just one per cent year on year, it is clear more needs to be done to ensure use of custody is very much a last resort, especially when dealing with people not convicted of any offence.

"While prison is always needed for serious offences, we continue to take forward action aimed at reducing the use of imprisonment and increasing the use of community-based interventions.

"That includes the Bail and Release from Custody Bill, introduced in June this year, which proposes to refocus how remand is used and improve support for people leaving prison, placing a greater emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration."

A Scottish Prison Service spokesman said: "While it is not for us to determine who should be remanded to custody, the impact on our establishments is significant.

"We are managing an increasingly complex prison population. Certain demographics are unable to be located in certain establishments, or even in the same area within an establishment.

"For example, whether someone in our care is a woman, a young person, on remand or serving sentences, convicted of sexual offences, linked to serious and organised crime gangs, or has requested protection status, would all be considered in deciding where they should be accommodated.

"When our population increases, the challenge these complexities present becomes ever more acute.

"This complexity is further illustrated by the increase in demand for health and social care services across the prison estate in recent years, partly due to our ageing population.

"The challenge we face on remand is also exacerbated by the court backlog, where it is routinely in excess of 140 days. This means they are frequently given backdated sentences, and released very soon after release, which limits our window for intervention and to address issues that need to be dealt with on release."

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