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  • Writer's pictureAngela Kirwin

Innocent Until Proven Guilty Doesn't Exist

The phrase ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is so ingrained in our society, that many people don’t realise we send thousands of people to prison each year who haven’t been found guilty of any crime. Any one of us could be sent to prison without getting our day in court to prove our innocence.

A person can be on remand before they have had a trial, or after they have been found guilty of an offence and are awaiting sentencing.

In 2020, 29,272 people were sent to prison before their trial. Those waiting for a trial make up 68% of the people on remand.

By September 2021,16% of the prison population was on remand, the highest quarterly figure since September 2011.

Another popular expression, though, is that ‘there’s no smoke without fire’. Surely, if these people are being sent to prison, they must have done something really bad?

In reality, 56% of people entering prison on remand awaiting trial are accused of non-violent offences yet they are put onto wings with serious offenders.

It might feel like this could never happen to you, but if it ever does, you would hope you’d be able to get to court and prove your innocence as quickly as possible. As of December 2021, there were 4,185 people who had been held for more than six months, more than half of whom – 2,279 – were in custody for alleged non-violent offences.

One recent prison inspection found that ‘remand prisoners were locked up for up to 23.5 hours a day with very few activities on offer; this was particularly concerning for the 60 prisoners who had been on remand for more than a year’.

Imagine being in prison for more than a year without having had a trial. Your life continues outside. You have bills to pay, children growing older, a job that no longer wants you. Your freedom has been taken and you remain locked in a cell for 23.5 hours a day. But you are still innocent.

“These unacceptable delays deny justice for everyone involved, including accused people and victims”

Being held without trial has a profound impact on mental health. Remand prisoners are far more likely to die by suicide while in custody. Although they make up 16% of the prison population, 37% of suicides last year were of remand prisoners.

What makes this even more shocking, is that when these people finally do get their day in court, many of them will be acquitted.

Almost one in 10 people remanded into custody by magistrates’ courts in 2020 were subsequently acquitted. A further 11% of people received a non-custodial sentence. In the Crown Court, 10% of people were acquitted and 14% of people received a non-custodial sentence.

This means they should never have been in prison in the first place.

Locking up innocent people and locking up people who should never have been in prison for months and years is not justice. It is cruel and torturous punishment. And it could happen to any one of us.

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