Proportion of remand prisoners from ethnic minorities rises 17 percent in six years

Exterior of Pentonville Prison England
Rising rates of ethnic disproportionality among those awaiting trial or sentencing is 'disturbing', according to advocacy groups

Reports Mirren Gidda, Liberty Investigates journalist, Eleanor Rose, Liberty Investigates editor and Rajeev Syal, Home Affairs editor at the Guardian.


The proportion of people being held on remand who are from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds has risen since the start of the pandemic, exclusive new data shows.

According to Ministry of Justice figures obtained under information laws by Liberty Investigates, the proportion of Black and minority ethnic people in the total remand population was 29 percent at the end of September 2015, rising to 31 percent at the end of September 2019.

This rose to 32 percent at the end of the September in 2020 and 34 percent at the end of September 2021, the most recent month included in the figures.

Individuals from an ethnic minority make up about 13 percent of the UK’s population, according to census data.

At the end of September 2021, 15 percent of those on remand were Black. Black people make up about three percent of the UK population.

The figures mean that the likelihood that any given prisoner held on remand is from a Black or minority ethnic background had increased by 17 percent from the end of September 2015 to the same point in 2021.

"We urge the Government to be upfront about the problem, publish the data, and commit to reversing this unacceptable trend"

Tyrone Steele, criminal justice lawyer at the charity JUSTICE

Adults are held on remand in prisons while awaiting a trial or sentencing hearing, many of whom have entered a not-guilty plea and have not been convicted of a crime. The decision to remand is made by courts according to criteria including the seriousness of the alleged crime and whether it’s believed the person will attend future hearings, or commit an offence on bail.


of those held on remand in September 2021 were from a Black or minority ethnic (BAME) background. BAME people account for around 13% of the population

At the end of September 2019, 9,602 people were in prison on remand, while a year later this had risen to 12,274, and at the end of September 2021 the figure stood at 12,990.

Of these, 2,923 of the September 2019 figure were from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds compared with 3,897 in September 2020, and 4,286 at the end of 2021 – an increase of 1,363 people across the three years.

There could be several reasons for the growing ethnic disproportionality, said Dawson. The 2017 Lammy Review into the treatment of Black and minority-ethnic (BAME) people in the criminal justice system found they were more likely to plead not guilty than white defendants. The main reason, according to the report, is a “lack of trust in the [criminal justice system] among BAME communities.”

“Not-guilty pleas are especially significant in this context because they lead to jury trial, which is where Covid [backlogs] will have had the most dramatic impact,” Dawson said. “Whatever the explanation, it’s a very disturbing situation.”

A 2021 report by the charity JUSTICE into racial injustice in the Youth Justice System found “biased decision making” in courts for young people, especially at junctures where judicial discretion is a factor. “With the pressures of Covid backlogs and cuts to legal aid, there is less scope to ‘correct’ for these biases and thus a higher chance of them operating in remand decisions,” said Tyrone Steele, a criminal justice lawyer at the charity.

An increase in disproportionate policing could provide another explanation, said Steele. “Policies which have serious racialised impacts, such as the Gangs Violence Matrix (GVM) and expansion of stop and search powers under Section 60, were created to ‘crack down’ on serious crime.

“Given 88 percent of the GVM are non-white, and that Black young men in London are 19 times more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped and searched, it is evident that this ‘crack down’ disproportionately targets racialised communities.

“It is disappointing that ever-greater numbers of ethnic minorities, and especially Black men, are spending increasing amounts of time on remand – straining the concept of innocent until proven guilty … We urge the Government to be upfront about the problem, publish the data, and commit to reversing this unacceptable trend.”

A Government spokesperson said: “While decisions to remand individuals in custody are made by independent judges, we are tackling the deep-rooted reasons why people from ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.

“Stop and search helps the police to save lives, with 16,000 weapons taken off the streets last year. Statutory codes of practice and body worn video ensure nobody is targeted because of their race.

“All prisoners receive mental health support and we have trained more than 25,000 staff in suicide and self-harm prevention.”

This article was published in partnership with the Guardian.