Spare a thought for those remanded into custody over the Christmas period, writes Benjamin Knight
Not long to go for Christmas now, and the festive spirit is already catching on. There’s nothing like Christmas to bring families together, put people in a good mood, forget the past and look forward to the future with renewed optimism.
But do spare a thought for remand prisoners, awaiting trial and locked up in prison at this time of the year. There is nothing more heartbreaking than to see a loved one being remanded in custody when the entire world is celebrating Christmas and the New Year.
This is the season for what is sometimes called “Jingle Bail” applications in the criminal courts. Those who are remanded make an often hopeless appeal to Circuit Judges to let them go home to their families for the holiday period.
In the UK, we expect remand prisoners to be treated better than convicted prisoners. They should be accorded more rights and entitlements. After all, it’s still innocent until proved guilty, right?
In principle, yes…but the fact is life is not easy for those who are in prison, awaiting trial. So what is it like to be remanded in custody during Christmas in the UK?
Facts About Remand Prisoners
Did you know remand prisoners account for 50 percent of self-inflicted custodial deaths despite being only 18 percent of the prison population?
The Prisons Inspectorate came out with a blistering report in 2012 that stated that remand prisoners were actually treated worse than convicted prisoners. The inspectors were told by the remand prisoners most prison staff did not know about the difference between remand and convicted prisoners and had no clue about the entitlements due to them.
The Howard League for Penal Reform said in a 2014 report that the courts wasted £230 million of taxpayer’s money by locking up people on remand for no real reason. Of the 36,044 men, women and children (juveniles)who were remanded to custody, 25,413 (71 percent) were acquitted or given a minor non-custodial sentence.
Non-profits such as the Howard League and POPS (Partners of Prisoners) have argued for many years that there is a widespread misuse and abuse of remand prisoners in the criminal justice system across England and Wales.
The Psychological Effect of Being Remanded in Custody During Christmas
Christmas is absolutely the worst time to be in prison. As it is, nobody is happy to be in prison, but being behind bars when everyone outside is celebrating Christmas can be particularly hard to cope with.
Even battle-hardened prisoners or convicted criminals struggle with that. For remand prisoners, who anyway feel down on life, the psychological effect of being in prison and away from their loved ones during Christmas hardly needs to be elaborated. It’s sad, it’s brutal and it’s devastating.
It’s no surprise that prison riots are a common occurrence across the country this time of the year, as we approach Christmas. This is not to say the authorities don’t do their bit to cheer prisoners during Christmas.
There are programs organised in prisons across England and Wales during Christmas Eve, led by the Church, religious organisations, charities and non-profits. There is a lot of sadness in the air – remember many remand prisoners are women and children – but everyone does their bit to bring some semblance of normality to the situation.
Inmates are permitted to play cards, board games and watch TV for as long as they like during Christmas. But they see all the adverts about families celebrating Christmas together and having a good time, while here they are, in prison, away from their near and dear ones and with an uncertain future. You can imagine how deeply upsetting and how psychologically damaging that must be for them.
Remand is the reason why we have such a bloated prison population. People on remand are highly susceptible to stress, anxiety and depression. They spend most of their time locked up in cells, get very little help and support and suffer from lack of motivation. Prison takes a heavy toll on their physical and mental health and they are at a high risk of self-harm and suicide. This feeling of sadness, loneliness and hopelessness gets worse during Christmas.
A positive from HMP Styal, Cheshire
If you are looking for a last-minute Christmas wreath, may I recommend the beautiful creations from the HMP Styal shop?
Some of you may have had a meal at The Clink Restaurant or the bought fruit, vegetables and flowers from the little shop by the entrance to the prison this year, but their Christmas range is truly fantastic and is much better value than pretty much any purveyor of wreaths that I have ever seen. I have been particularly impressed with the speed with which this little enterprise has developed. Moreover, the pride shown in their creations is infectious and well-deserved. The wreath pictured (on my actual door) cost only £10 and it smells lovely.