Mr Justice Munby has ordered a public inquiry into a suicide
attempt at Pentonville that left a vulnerable remand prisoner with
permanent brain damage. In his ruling – the first of its kind – the
judge found that the prison service had failed in its duty under
human rights law to protect life.
But scrutiny shouldn’t stop at the terrible levels of suicide and
attempted suicide in our prisons. A review of the whole remand
system is urgently required. In the 10 years up to 2002, the number
of women remanded has increased by a staggering 196 per cent; the
number of men by 52 per cent.
While there are legitimate reasons for refusing bail, such as
concerns over public safety and intimidation of witnesses, many
individuals not only lose their freedom but also their livelihood
and already fragile relationships, only to be acquitted once their
case comes to court. Every year, 12,000 people on remand are
Remand prisoners make up a fifth of the prison population but
account for half of all self-inflicted deaths in prison. At a
conference looking at ways of reducing custodial remand, Judge John
Samuels suggested that compensation should be paid to remand
prisoners who were subsequently acquitted. He also gave an example
of the casual disregard shown for the liberty of individuals (not
least because they are often drawn from the addicted, homeless and
drifting) by the police and judiciary.
A man came before the judge who had been remanded for five months.
During that period, he had appeared in court seven times before
five judges. He faced two charges of robbery against three
complainants. When the prisoner finally appeared before him, the
prosecution said the complainants could not be found and the case
was dismissed. The evidence indicated that a bailable offence of
aggressive begging would have been a more suitable charge.
The judge recommended proactive case management in courts and
continuity of judges. The conference also called for more and
varied alternatives to remand, such as bail hostels offering
In one three-month period, according to Anita Dockley of the Howard
League for Penal Reform, 26,000 went in and out of prison on
remand. The average time spent for men on remand is 49 days,
sitting in their cells, doing nothing – except, in some tragic
cases, planning ways to end their lives.