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Howard League blog · 4 Jan 2024

Helping young adults to understand their legal rights while on remand

This week, prisons across the country will be receiving a guide published by the Howard League to help young adults understand their legal rights if they are remanded in custody. The colourful 36-page guide, which was developed in workshops with young adults in prison, is aimed at 18- to 25-year-olds, but it may also be helpful to older adults on remand.

Remand is a concerning issue for young adults. People aged 18 to 25 make up about eight per cent of the general population, but 20 per cent of the remand population in prison. This is why we created our guide to help young adults on remand understand their rights. Alongside the guide, we published a detailed briefing aimed at practitioners and policymakers.

In putting together our briefing and guide, we spoke to young adults held on remand and heard their concerns and the issues they face. Our briefing explored the need for a distinct approach for young people who are awaiting trial or sentencing.

Physical copy of the Howard League's guide 'Your legal rights on remand'.

Young people aged 18 to 25 are a distinct group who are still maturing psychologically and socially, as their brains continue to develop. For too many, turning 18 becomes a cliff edge, beyond which they are not given the support and resources they need. In a 2021 thematic report, HM Inspectorate of Prisons concluded that outcomes were poor for young adults compared with those for older people in prison. And yet, young adults continue to be remanded, with no recognition of their particular experiences of custody, their maturity, or their ability to understand and navigate the system.

One young adult told us: “It’s not easy to understand the court process. The English they use is mad. I don’t understand half the time. It should be easier to understand.”

Young adults on remand make up a fifth of the remand population, and are spending longer and longer in custody in overcrowded prisons. Some of those young people do not know why they have been remanded in the first place, and statutory agencies are not required to support them. Subjected to impoverished regimes due to their status as remand prisoners, they have insufficient contact with family and friends and are not provided with timely, specialist support with their mental health. Instead of receiving extra support and tailored, distinct approaches that acknowledge their level of maturity, they are disappearing into the system, without any tools to navigate their situations. One young adult, speaking of his experience during his trial, said he felt that the prosecution “want me to go in with my eyes closed”.

Our briefing reveals that remand is used disproportionately against Black, Brown and racially minoritised young adults. In June 2023, 26 per cent of remanded 18- to 20-year-olds and 18 per cent of remanded 21- to 25-year-olds were Black, compared to less than six per cent and five per cent respectively in the general population. For Black, Brown and racially minoritised young adults, navigating their trials brought about feelings of injustice and a lack of faith in the system, compounded by experiences of racial injustice.

People on remand receive a poor regime, spending more time locked in their cells and receiving less help and support

One young adult told us: “When Black people go to trial the way they paint you is mad, like you’re a monster or something. It don’t make no sense.”

Data from the Ministry of Justice published in 2023 showed that, in 2022, 52 per cent of Black defendants aged 18 to 20 were remanded into custody during crown court proceedings, compared to 36 per cent of white defendants in the same age group.

Speaking of his experiences navigating the system, one young adult said: “I don’t know how court works but I know colour does play a part. I know that for a fact.”

Until April 2023, the Ministry of Justice had not published data on remand and ethnicity in its quarterly offender management statistics, but data now published confirms the disproportionate use of remand. In June 2023, 13 per cent of people on remand identified as Black or Black British, as compared to four per cent of the general population, and 11 per cent identified as Asian or British Asian, as compared to nine per cent of the population.

But the data available is not enough. Data on the reasons for remand decisions is not published, making it difficult to understand and scrutinise remand decisions. Data on the number of people on remand, on the length of time people are held on remand, and on reasons for remand decisions is critical to understanding the current situation and where the problems lie. To begin making progress, it is vital that this data is published, and disaggregated by age, ethnicity, religion and gender. Collection and publication of this information will mean that disproportionality can be scrutinised and addressed, and that we can begin to understand why young people are ending up on remand in the first place.

We know that, across the estate, people on remand receive a poor regime, spending more time locked in their cells and receiving less help and support. We also know that many of them should not be in prison at all, as they will not receive a custodial sentence when their case gets resolved. For children and young adults, these realities are all the more serious.

It is critical that courts use remand sparingly and only in cases where public safety is at risk. And, especially in the cases of children and young adults, it is critical that we have adequate data to understand who is ending up on remand and why, so we can meaningfully begin work to pull numbers down from their ten-year high.

Noor Khan



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