More than a quarter of prisoners in Scotland’s jails have still to face trial as the number of remands hits an all-time high, we can reveal.
There were 1,975 untried prisoners in Scotland last week, 26% of the 7,575 behind bars. Just under half of young people aged 16 to 20 are untried.
The figures prompted calls from campaigners urging courts to only remand suspects judged to be dangerous saying many who are accused of crimes could be safely managed in the community.
Bail supervision can reduce the number of people on remand. However, three quarters of people facing trial were remanded last year.
When the figures were released in March, ministers announced £1.65 million for local authorities to bolster existing bail supervision services. But the numbers on remand continue to rise with the Scottish Prison Service confirming a new record last week.
The proportion of the prison population on remand in Scotland is around 62% higher than it is in England and Wales.
Emma Jardine, policy and public affairs manager for Howard League Scotland, said: “That’s not a reflection of the fact that there are more people in Scotland who we potentially need to be protected from than there are in England and Wales. It’s a reflection of how we’ve come to use prison, instead of non-custodial alternatives.
“Pre-pandemic, the remand population stood at 16%. It now stands at an eye-wateringly high 26%. Some of that is undoubtedly a result of court backlogs, but that isn’t the whole story. We’ve long used remand for people who don’t pose a risk of serious harm to the public. Many of them could, and should, be safely managed in the community.”
The Scottish Government launched a consultation this month on the use of remand in Scotland. Justice minister Keith Brown has indicated he wants courts to make greater use of bail supervision. He said: “The reforms we are proposing are intended to change the way bail law operates so that those who do not pose a risk of serious harm are managed safely in the community and are not remanded in custody.”
The Scottish Prison Service commented: “Our untried population reached the highest level recorded in mid-November.”
The Scottish Government said: “The single biggest factor in the increase in remand is the backlog of cases created by the pandemic and we are committed to helping the justice services recover. This includes providing an additional £50m in this financial year, so that cases involving all accused, including those on remand, can be progressed and justice carried out in each case.
“We recognise the disruption periods of remand cause individuals, their families and communities. That is why we are continuing to strengthen the provision of credible alternatives to remand supported by an investment of £550,000 in bail supervision each year.”
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