Half of all the children in custody being held on remand

Work with offenders on a new Howard League campaign

On Friday the Howard League for Penal Reform launched a new project to tackle the surging use of remand among children in custody. The first report of the project summarises findings from initial research and highlights particular concerns around remand and race.

Almost half of all the 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 briefing makes it clear that most children remanded in custody will not get a prison sentence. Since 2011, the Youth Justice Board has published annual data on sentencing outcomes for children who have been remanded to custody. In every year from 2013 to 2020, more than six in 10 children who were remanded to custody were either acquitted or given a non-custodial sentence. From 2015 onwards, this rose to approximately two-thirds of children remanded to custody.

Qualitative research shows that sentencing and remand decisions in England and Wales are based on different criteria. Sentencing decisions focus on the evidence and the offence, whereas remand decisions focus on perceived risk and perceived welfare needs of the child. As a result, research suggests that remand decisions can punish children for the accumulated disadvantage which they have experienced in and beyond the criminal justice system.

Black and minority ethnic children, children with disabilities and children from deprived backgrounds have been found to receive harsher remand decisions. Children who have been excluded from education are less likely to be given bail, even though exclusion is in turn linked to other forms of marginalisation and disadvantage – including racism, poverty, status as a child in need and special educational needs.

The number of children sentenced to custody has fallen dramatically over the past fifteen years and remains on a downward trajectory. However, remand decision-making has not followed the same pattern and whilst the number of children in prison on remand has reduced, they have become a growing proportion of children in custody. In July 2021, remand was the most common legal basis for holding children and eighteen year olds in youth custody. Forty five per cent of the youth custodial population – almost half – were held on remand.

Key themes 

The Howard League’s report is based to a great extent on the work of its legal team which provides advocacy for children and young people in the secure estate. This initial report identifies four common issues faced by children who are remanded to custody:

  1. The court backlog means that children are spending unnecessarily and unlawfully long periods of time in custody.
  2. Children are let down by inadequate professional and legal responses to exploitation.
  3. Children’s services often fail to provide wrap-around support and accommodation for children on remand, even though they have a statutory duty to do this.
  4. Eighteen-year-olds are transferred to the adult estate midway through trial when this is not in their best interests, especially in the context of Covid-19.

An ongoing campaign

The Howard League says these four themes will inform the casework of its legal team with children on remand in the next stages of the project, as well as a leaflet which the charity is committed to produce for children themselves.

Future publications from this campaign will discuss the experiences of children on remand and how criminal lawyers can effectively support children with bail applications and resettlement.

It seems clear that these briefings will be an important resource which will also keep the spotlight on the over-use of remand for children in contact with the criminal justice system.