Only those who pose the highest risk to the public or are likely to abscond are held on remand. Extensions to normal custody time limits must be approved by independent judges and defendants have the right to apply for bail. At the same time, courts are continuing to prioritise remand hearings and the most urgent cases to protect the public. Our investment in more Nightingale courtrooms and video hearings has already seen outstanding magistrates’ cases fall significantly since last summer.
We know this period has been very difficult for prisoners, their families and friends. Maintaining safety and the mental health and wellbeing of prisoners continues to be a priority, as it has been throughout the pandemic. We have put in place tailored guidance on supporting specific groups of people in prison whose wellbeing may be more impacted by the Covid-19 measures – including older prisoners, those with learning disabilities and/or autism, transgender prisoners, and groups known to be at increased risk of self-harm. We have produced a range of products to support governors in devising and implementing local safety and welfare plans: these include resources for staff assisting prisoners who might be struggling, and tools to promote wellbeing.
We also know that the early days in custody can be a particularly risky period, and we have previously published an Early Days toolkit to enable governors to evaluate what their prisons are doing to mitigate risk during this period. As part of our recovery plans, we are prioritising prisoner wellbeing and keep under review the support that can be provided, including for people on remand. We have issued comprehensive safety guidance to establishments to support their recovery.
We recognise how important it has been for prisoners to maintain family ties through the pandemic. People on remand are entitled to additional visits from friends and family and, while visits have been restricted, we introduced secure video calling in all prisons. 60% of the prison estate has access to in-cell telephony and, for those that do not, we introduced over 1,500 secure mobile handsets and provided every prisoner £5 PIN credit per week. Social visits have now resumed but with restrictions and testing in place to facilitate physical contact.