Hundreds held in prison for over two years despite not being convicted

Old Bailey - Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Old Bailey - Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

More than 500 people have been held in prison for more than two years despite not being convicted of any offence, official figures show.

Court delays have seen the number of unconvicted or unsentenced people remanded in jail rise to a 14-year high, with 1,777 held for longer than a year and 533 held longer than two years.

One, charged with drugs supply and a firearms offence, has been imprisoned awaiting trial for four years and three months.

It has prompted a warning from Charlie Taylor, HM chief inspector of prisons, that there is risk many could be released as soon as they are sentenced because they have already spent so long behind bars.

He said this meant they could walk free without having had any effective rehabilitation or education because remand prisoners generally do not get the same access to such facilities as convicted inmates.

‘They have no support’

“They will have in effect served their sentence before they even come to court, and will certainly walk free in prison having spent two years without getting any education without getting any support,” he told The Telegraph.

“People who are either unconvicted or who are released on time served, of which a fair proportion are, they have no support and the danger is that they’ll just get swept back into crime again.

“The concern is that when you’re in remand, you’re not obliged to work or go to education, that often those services are not provided for remand prisoners to the same level that they are for sentenced prisoners.

“There are also things like losing contact with family that help to stop people from reoffending, like having children, having a partner. If relationships break down as a result of that, then then that becomes concerning.

“And for the process of justice, victims of crime don’t get any sense that their case has really been dealt with and witnesses may just fade away and they’re not available.”

Fears delays could worsen

There are concerns that the backlogs of court cases and delays could get worse if talks currently under way between the Ministry of Justice and the Criminal Bar Association fail to resolve the indefinite strike over pay.

The number of remand prisoners increased sharply during the Covid pandemic from less than 10,000 in 2019 as trials were brought to a halt to prevent the spread of the virus.

Continued delays to trials have meant the numbers remanded have risen further as violent crime has returned to pre-pandemic levels and more offenders have been refused bail after being charged.

The latest figures show that there were 13,409 suspects held in prison – up nearly six per cent in a year and the highest number since 2008.

Many on remand will walk free after trial. Last year, more than one in five people were not sent to prison after being held on remand, and one in 10 held on remand were subsequently acquitted at trial.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Remand cases have been prioritised following the unprecedented impact of the pandemic and only those defendants posing the greatest risk to the public or who are likely to abscond are held in prison.

“Prisoners on remand have equal access to rehabilitation programmes and we are boosting the range on offer so that more people in custody turn their backs on crime.”