The UK’s prison population has risen by 80% in the last 30 years and is currently projected to rise by a further 7,400 people by 2024. At the same time, over 10,700 prison places have been closed since 2010 and only 11,000 new ones created, meaning that only 300 extra places can be safely and securely accommodated. Such a rise in demand for the custodial estate has resulted in worsening trends in conditions, resourcing and quality.
Placing significant pressure on this already-stretched system is the rising number of remand prisoners.
The remand population
The remand population describes those that are being held in custody whilst awaiting trial or sentence and are therefore unconvicted. They are typically deemed unable to be monitored safely in the community or are remanded for their own protection, and are usually held in Category B prisons.
Since March 2020, there has been a 44% increase in remand prisoners, taking the total population to 14,591, a figure which stands at a 50-year high. This issue is two-fold: as well as more people being on remand, they are also there for longer periods of time. Such an increase is due in part to the incomplete recovery of our courts after the COVID-19 pandemic, creating long backlogs of cases awaiting trial. In fact, although a Custody Time Limit (CTL) of six months exists to prevent defendants from spending an excessive period behind bars ahead of their trial, many hundreds are held in custody for much longer than that.
Unique and significant challenges
Those on remand often face a double disadvantage: the mental turmoil that the uncertainty of their case takes, combined with a lack of the same support that those on determinate sentences qualify for. Unlike those who are sentenced, individuals held on remand can suffer from increased feelings of anxiety and apprehension due to the unpredictability of their circumstance:
When will their court date be?
Will they be sentenced?
How long for?
In addition, for many people on remand it is their first time in prison and the shock and confusion of the new custodial environment can significantly destabilise their mental wellbeing.
Lack of support
Those on remand, however, often cannot access the same opportunities as those who have been sentenced – for example, employability support or educational courses – despite often having identical need. Before 2022, Community Rehabilitation Companies provided enhanced Through the Gate (TTG) resettlement services to all people in custody, whether remanded or sentenced. Catch22 successfully delivered enhanced Through the Gate services across 14 prisons, which provided such resettlement support to remanded individuals. However, the reunification of the Probation Service in 2022 meant that remand prisoners were not included in new contracts with accommodation support agencies in prison.
What’s more, many support services that work in custody, for instance substance misuse or mental health services, prioritise cases by release date, which significantly disadvantages untied and unsentenced remand prisoners who do not have a release date. In combination, there is very little adequate resettlement done pre-release with those on remand to help them prepare for life outside.
The result can be grave, with the remand population accounting for 28% of self-inflicted deaths in custody, despite making up 18% of the whole prison population; a discrepancy which demonstrates a need for the reintroduction of and considerable investment in custodial support services that cater to the specific needs of those on remand.
How Catch22 works to support those on remand
In HMP Wandsworth, where the remand cohort makes up 63% of the prison population, Catch22 deliver the Life Skills Remand Project. The Life Skills Remand Project is a pilot course intended to resource participants with strategies and skills to deal with the specific uncertainties and challenges that come with being on remand. The course consists of seven sessions across one week, including an initial one-to-one session to establish a rapport and set out the aims of the course as well as a follow up one-to-one session the week after. Amongst others, the topics of sessions include tools and strategies to navigate stress and anxiety, building effective emotional management skills, maintaining effective relationships and creating useful and achievable goals.
Out of the learners who completed the course, Catch22 measured outcomes using a distance travelled assessment at point of initial one-to-one assessment and follow up one-to-one assessment, whereby individuals took a self-assessment questionnaire. So far, 94% of participants in the Life Skills Project evidenced a positive shift in outcomes, and all 122 participants provided 100% positive feedback.
Participants have reflected on the skills and support they have gained from the course, noting:
“I can’t explain how great the course was. I found it very helpful and insightful as I learned a lot about how to better myself mentally and build better relationships with people. I also learned that working as a group could benefit me and those around also. Feedback and positive criticism can be of great help to a person as it allows them to think better and make better decisions going forward.
“The course helped me to think about my goals. It was like a refreshment and helped me to make a plan for when I get out.”
We know that to process the whole remand population through the Criminal Justice System (CJS) is not a quick or simple task. As such, we must act to provide those already at detriment from the remand system with services that support their unique and significant needs. At the same time, if we are to ease the pressure that the growing remand population is having on the custodial estate, we must begin to prioritise rehabilitative alternatives to custody entirely.