Saturday, 26 July 2014

On Remand - Prison's Nowhere Men

When I come across comments about prisons made by members of the ‘hang ‘em and flog ‘em’ brigade, the usual gripe is that conditions inside are far too cushy and cons should be made to suffer. There are regular calls for the return of hard labour, often with a compulsory dose of flogging and the use of shackles being demanded by 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells'. You sometimes wonder what the home-life of these folks is like.

As recommended in Tunbridge Wells
Campaigners for prison reform often meet with the same old refrain: “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime!” My usual response is to point out that prisons don’t just hold convicted prisoners. In fact, between 10 and 15 percent are being held on remand awaiting trial – most for months, some for years. That means anything from 8,500 up to about 12,700 of our current prison population have yet to be convicted of a crime. They are innocent until proven guilty.

Moreover, according to a report on remands published in August 2012 by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, during 2010 a total of 17 percent of prisoners who had been held on remand were subsequently acquitted or released without charge, while a further 25 percent were given a non-custodial sentence by the courts. This means that a substantial proportion – over 40 percent – of remand prisoners are likely to be released from court, rather than returned to serve custodial sentences - which raises the question as to why most of them were banged up in the first place.

Remands are the nowhere men (and women) of the UK prison system. They are, in legal terms, as innocent as anyone out on the street. None of them should be in prison as a punishment and, according to the Prison Rules (1999) they should enjoy better conditions and a wider range of rights than are available to convicts. This clear distinction between convicted and unconvicted inmates has been around since at least the Victorian era, however, in practice I’ve found that remands are often treated worse than cons.

One of the strange anomalies of the 33 local prisons that accommodate remands is that notices on the wings still refer to ‘prisoners’, rather than the preferred official term ‘offenders’. This is because remands cannot be called offenders since they haven’t been convicted of any offence by a court of law. They cannot be given sentence plans (because they haven't been found guilty or sentenced), or participate in any offending behaviour work.

In my experience, B-cat local prisons – where most remands tend to be held (unless they are considered very high risk, in which case they are housed in high security establishments) – treat remands as convicts, mainly because the facilities to segregate them from convicted prisoners simply don’t exist. In theory, remands are not supposed to be forced to share cells with prisoners who have been convicted. As Prison Rule 7 (2) makes very clear:

(2) Unconvicted prisoners:

(a) shall be kept out of contact with convicted prisoners as far as the governor considers it can reasonably be done, unless and to the extent that they have consented to share residential accommodation or participate in any activity with convicted prisoners; and

(b) shall under no circumstances be required to share a cell with a convicted prisoner.

Of course, like much prison-speak “under no circumstances” means something completely different once you’re inside a nick. What it really means is “under no circumstances shall anyone tell a prisoner on remand what the actual rules are”. An ignorant con is a good, compliant con.

Most remands have no idea of the law and are kept in the dark over their legal rights. Time and again I’ve seen remands being forced into cell shares with convicted inmates and when this gets pointed out to wing screws, the usual response is “get in the cell or I’ll nick you!”

Special cell for remands?
My own experience is confirmed by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in its 2012 report on remands. I think that this passage is worth quoting in full: 

There is also an unresolved disjuncture between the Prison Rules and Prison Service policy, with the latter permitting remand prisoners to share cells with sentenced prisoners if they have consented, and the former appearing to suggest that remand and sentenced prisoners should under no circumstances be required to share a cell. Although sharing residential accommodation and cells with sentenced prisoners was the norm, few in our groups recalled being asked for their consent. Those in our groups felt that staff were unable to distinguish between remand and sentenced prisoners on the wings, and prisoners in our groups and staff we spoke to had limited or no knowledge of their entitlements.

The main problem seems to be that the prison authorities are incapable (and unwilling) to obey the rules. Since there is no sanction or consequence involved when remand prisoners are denied their legal rights, these abuses will certainly continue with the current over-crowding of prisons. In effect, HMPS appears to be out of control and no-one – including HM Inspectorate of Prisons – seems to be able to do anything about it.

If you’re on remand, you also don’t have to wear prison-issue clothing. You have a legal right to use your own clothes (as long as they are clean and fit for purpose) which can be handed in by family or friends as Prison Rule 23 (1) makes clear:

An unconvicted prisoner may wear clothing of his own if and in so far as it is suitable, tidy and clean, and shall be permitted to arrange for the supply to him from outside prison of sufficient clean clothing.

'Banana suit'
The only legal exception to this rule is if the remand is considered to be serious escape risk (and in practice this means any potential A-cat prisoner). In those cases he can be forced to wear a “banana suit” – a clown’s outfit with alternate yellow and blue (or green) panels. Oh, and he can also be stripped naked every night when he’s in his cell. It’s a real barrel of laughs on the E-list (Escape List).

Again, in practice, most remands have their civilian clothing confiscated in Reception and get put into grubby, stained and ill-fitting prison-issue like any other prisoner. When I was working as an Insider at a B-cat local I once asked a remand who was awaiting trial why he was wearing prison trackies. He genuinely had no idea that he was supposed to have the right to wear his own clothes. I then discovered that he was also sharing a cell with a lad who was doing a 5 (a five-year sentence). When I informed him of what the Prison Rules state, he asked a wing screw who just laughed and said, “Oh, we don’t use those old rules anymore… now, be a good lad and don’t make any trouble.”

Work is another touchy subject in some nicks. Although remands cannot officially be made to perform forced labour (unlike convicted prisoners) – Prison Rule 31 (5) – they are “permitted” to work, should they wish to do so. Of course, this is interpreted by some wing screws as meaning that remands should be compelled to work and punished with Basic regime (solitary confinement) if they refuse. In practice there is no real distinction.

The only benefits that most remands seem to get as standard are additional visits and access to extra personal cash (assuming that they actually have some). And now there are other bizarre disincentives for remands. Under the new Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system introduced by PSI 30/2013 on 1 November 2013 prisoners on remand are included in the new four-tier structure. 

On first reception they are placed on the Entry level for a least two weeks. In theory, as remands they can wear their own clothes during this period, but in practice this usually doesn’t happen. Then they can progress to Standard level, and then three months later, to Enhanced like any convicted prisoner. However, if they are then subsequently convicted at court, they lose all the privileges they had previously earned through good behaviour while on remand and revert back to Entry level again. It’s a bit like playing custodial Snakes and Ladders.

Down the IEP snake to Entry Level
Aside from all the petty rules and vindictive IEP policies that impact on unconvicted prisoners, remands have a range of complex needs and many suffer from high levels of stress and anxiety, fuelled by the uncertainty of their situation. As the HMIP report referred to above observes: 

Remand prisoners are at an increased risk of suicide and self-harm and nearly a quarter (23 percent) in our survey said they had felt depressed or suicidal when they arrived at prison. Over three- quarters of remand prisoners reported a welfare problem on arrival, and a third or more said they had a drug or mental health problem.

Will anything change for the better? I very much doubt it. Prisons are under resourced and the population is continuing to rise. Remands truly are the nowhere men of the nick – and no-one seems to care, least of all the punishment freaks who are currently driving the UK’s penal policy.

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