ALMOST HALF OF ALL CHILDREN IN CUSTODY in England and Wales are being held on remand, despite the fact around two-thirds of children remanded to custody will not go on to receive a prison sentence.

The number of children remanded to custody increased between 2017 and 2019, even though the number of children sentenced to custody has been falling since the late 2000s.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has launched a project to tackle this surge in the use of remand. A new report, What’s wrong with remanding children to prison? summarises the project’s emerging findings and highlights particular concerns around remand and race.

The starkest racial disparities in the criminal justice system are found in remands to youth custody. In 2019/20, nearly six in ten children remanded to custody were from Black, Asian, or minority ethnic backgrounds. More than a third of remanded children were Black, though Black people make up only around three per cent of the general population.

The Howard League report finds that despite legislative and policy responses to the overuse of remand for children, court decisions continue to punish children for the failures of the services around them. This injustice is compounded by the racial disparities described above and, during the pandemic, by children’s experiences of isolation in custody and long court delays.

Dr Laura Janes, Legal Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The number of children in prison has never been lower and so there is no better time to tackle the unnecessary use of remand. All too often children are being remanded to custody because of inadequate support from statutory services or through poor decision-making by adults.

“Some children the Howard League has worked with could not apply for bail, or had their bail applications rejected, because their local authority had not found them a safe place to live.

“The Howard League’s remand project aims to equip youth offending teams, lawyers and courts with the information they need to drive down the unnecessary use of remand for children in custody and to tackle the shocking racial disparities in how remand decisions are made.”

The report is published to coincide with a conference for policymakers and practitioners across London to tackle the overuse of remand. The event is organised by Transform Justice, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, the Youth Justice Board, and the Association of London Directors of Children’s Services.

Penelope Gibbs, Director of Transform Justice, said: “Children who are pleading their innocence shouldn’t be swept into prison because a bail package was not available in time. Child remand in England and Wales is overused and is not, in reality, a last resort. We, the Howard League and other stakeholders are determined to stem the flow, particularly in London.”

In March 2021, Howard League lawyers began working with staff at a children’s prison to identify children on remand with unmet legal support needs with a view to understanding why they were there and to see if they could be supported to get bail. This new report is the first in a series of publications which will discuss the experiences of children on remand and how criminal lawyers can effectively support children with bail applications and resettlement.

* Read What’s wrong with remanding children to prison? here.

* Source: Howard League for Penal Reform