Behind Bars Before Trial: Racial Disparities from Arrest to Imprisonment

Behind Bars Before Trial: Racial Disparities from Arrest to Imprisonment

A joint investigation by Liberty and The Guardian recently revealed that Black individuals spend more than 70 percent longer in prison awaiting trial or sentencing (“on remand”) than their white counterparts. This is despite findings that on average Black individuals facing charges are more likely to be found innocent at trial than white defendants after being held on remand. It is widely acknowledged that even short periods of imprisonment pose significant risks. Critically examining the reasons and consequences of imprisonment prior to trial or sentencing is therefore crucial.

Unveiling the Link: How does the police factor into this?

The police, courts, and prisons are interconnected within the criminal justice system, and it is vital to understand their interrelation to address racial disparities. Avon and Somerset police recently acknowledged the presence of institutional racism within their force, following similar findings about the Metropolitan Police earlier this year. Disproportionate targeting of already over-policed communities, such as through the frequent use of stop and searches, can lead to an increased number of unlawful arrests among individuals from those communities. This in turn heightens the risk of imprisoning individuals before they get the chance to appear at trial. As police forces are increasingly conceding their systemic failings, policing continues to be a significant factor in imprisonment disparities.

What are the realities of remand?

After someone is arrested and charged with a crime, they can be put on remand, which means the person will go to prison before their trial or sentencing. In theory, a person should only be deprived of their liberty in specific circumstances, where there are for instance public safety concerns or there is a reasonable fear that this person may not appear in court. Bail is otherwise be presumed to be granted, in line with the fundamental principle of “innocent until proven guilty”.

Yet, racial bias in bail decisions leads to higher remand rates for Black people, even where there are potentially minimal risks to the public. As of April 2022, 91% of Judges in England and Wales were white. Only 1% of judges were from Black backgrounds. A recent report detailed the many repeated examples of racial bias held in the judiciary. Judges harbouring anti-Black biases perpetuate false narratives surrounding Black criminality, and may characterise Black individuals as more "dangerous," "dishonest," and less deserving of empathy compared to their white counterparts. This narrative is grounded in prejudiced stereotypes, historically used to legitimise the systemic oppression of Black people. Consequently, individuals often remain in remand for extended periods, sometimes more than three years, without a guilty verdict or a sentence.

Do individuals experience long-term effects?

It is well-documented that individuals held on remand experience lasting impact even if only imprisoned for short amounts of time. In the UK, individuals currently cannot claim compensation for being held on remand and acquitted thereafter. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that individuals can experience high levels of harm whilst imprisoned on remand. Government data shows that in 2020/2021, remanded individuals had the highest rate of self-inflicted deaths. Meanwhile, serious assaults in prison are on the rise, as well as a notable increase in rapes and sexual assaults in prison, which a remanded individual can fall victim to. Notably, individuals who face harm beyond the imprisonment itself while on remand in prison have the option to pursue compensation.

Challenging unlawful practices

Whilst it is encouraging that structural faults within the justice system are increasingly acknowledged, it remains vital to persistently challenge unlawful police and prison practices.  This ongoing effort is crucial to prevent the unnecessary, unjustified, and harmful imprisonment of individuals.

The Human Rights Department at Saunders Law offers expert legal assistance and representation in civil claims against the police and prisons. We also have extensive experience in and are renowned for our death in police and prison custody inquest work

For a free, no-obligation, initial discussion to see if we might be able to help, please make an enquiry online.


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