Courts wasted an estimated £230 million of taxpayers’ money last year by needlessly locking up people on remand, figures obtained from the Ministry of Justice through Freedom of Information requests and published by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal.
During 2013, more than 35,000 people who had been remanded in custody were either acquitted or given non-custodial sentences.
The money spent on keeping them in prison would have been enough to build 16 new secondary schools, pay 10,000 nurses for a year, or reverse the government’s cuts to the criminal legal aid budget.
Of the 36,044 men, women and children who were remanded into custody by magistrates, 25,413 (71 per cent) did not go on to receive a custodial sentence.
In the crown courts, 9,844 (27 per cent) of the 36,833 men, women and children remanded were either acquitted or given a non-custodial sentence. However, there was a significant gender difference, with 41 per cent of female defendants being acquitted or receiving a non-custodial sentence, compared to 26 per cent of male defendants.
The figures suggest that there is widespread overuse and misuse of remand across England and Wales – despite the recent introduction of new legislation designed in part to reduce the number of people locked up needlessly.
People on remand receive a very poor regime when in prison. Overall they spend more time locked in their cells, receive less help and support when inside, and are inadequately prepared for release. Remand prisoners are also at the greatest risk of self-harm and suicide.
Remand is currently the key driver of the rising prison population. Its misuse puts further pressure on the country’s overcrowded and under-resourced prison estate, where suicides and assaults have risen alarmingly after the number of officers was cut by 30 per cent in three years.
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Our prisons are squalid and our prisoners are idle, yet the courts are continuing to remand innocent people and people accused of petty crime at huge public expense.
“It is time to end this unjust system, which is costing the nation money that could be better spent.”
Over the 12 months ending June 2014 there have been approximately 11,594 people in prison on remand at any one time. As a prison place costs £37,000 per year on average, this means that almost £429 million per year is being spent on incarcerating remand prisoners alone.
The cost to the prison system of the 70 per cent of men and women who are remanded by magistrates but do not go on to receive a custodial sentence is an estimated £165 million per year (based on 25,413 people each remanded for nine weeks on average, with a prison place costing £37,000 per year).
The cost to the system of imprisoning those who are remanded by crown courts but do not go on to receive a custodial sentence is an estimated £65 million per year (based on 9,844 people remanded for nine weeks on average at a cost of £37,000 per year per prison place).
The true cost to the taxpayer is likely to be even higher after the ancillary costs of remanding people into custody are taken into account. These include prisoner transfer costs and court administration costs, as well as the provision of benefits and support to address the economic and social disadvantage caused by remand, such as family breakup, homelessness and unemployment.