Howard League blog · 28 Jan 2022
A welcome review of custodial remand for children
This week the Ministry of Justice published a long-awaited review of custodial remand for children. This important document responds to concerns raised by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the Justice Committee, and echoed by many others including the Howard League, about the ever-increasing proportion of children on remand in prison.
Remand is one of the biggest issues on our radar. Custody is the most serious sanction the state can impose, and independent inquiries leave no doubt as to the risk of harm it poses to children. But look closely at how this power is used, and the facts are stark.
Official figures published yesterday reveal that, in the year ending March 2021, three-quarters of children remanded to youth detention accommodation did not go on to receive a custodial sentence. This is the highest level seen on record.
Furthermore, a high proportion of children on remand come from Black and minority ethnic communities – a fact that the Chair of the Youth Justice Board, Keith Fraser, has explored in detail and is recognised in the review.
This review is welcome and should help to bring to life changes in remand that the government has already proposed in its Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, currently going through Parliament. Clause 131 in the Bill increases the threshold for remanding children to custody. A white paper that preceded the Bill expressly stated that the changes were designed to reduce the unnecessary use of remand for children.
In spite of legislative and policy responses to the overuse of remand for children, court decisions have continued to punish children for the failures of the services around them
As we stated last September, in the Howard League briefing What’s wrong with remanding children to prison?, the proposed legislation is welcome, but the current law is sufficiently flexible to allow fewer children to be remanded and this has not happened. It is what happens on a practical and cultural level that will make the difference.
The findings in this review should help with that process – especially the commitment to strengthen frontline work affecting remand decision-making, the need to enhance accommodation as an alternative to detention on remand and address the racial disparities that exist within the cohort of children on remand.
The review underlines the importance of the Howard League’s work on this issue. In March last year, 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.
We have found that, in spite of legislative and policy responses to the overuse of remand for children, court decisions have continued to punish children for the failures of the services around them. A second briefing from this project, following up on What’s wrong with remanding children to prison?, will be published soon.
There is much more work to do, and inevitably there remain areas of concern that have not been covered – such as the courts’ power to remand children for their own ‘welfare’. But this review recognises that the remand of children is a key issue and makes important commitments to address it.