Compelling statistics: how many innocent people on remand?

Britain’s jails are full, but are they full of the right people? A huge number are on remand – and are subsequently found not guilty of the charges on which they were remanded.

Just how many has recently been disclosed in a parliamentary answer to a question from Andrew Pelling MP – whose researcher Adam Chambers attended  a Royal Statistical Society seminar for journalists, and has since inspired a number of useful statistical questions from Mr Pelling.
He asked Maria Eagle, Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice, for the annual number of prisoners held in prison on remand who are found not guilty of the charges on which they were remanded to prisons; and on the length of their remand.
The Table shows the latest data (not yet available for 2008) from Criminal Statistics, England and Wales for defendants remanded in custody by all courts in England and Wales, by outcome of their court-case.

This shows an average of more than 12,000 ultimately innocent defendants are locked up on remand every year. The data does not show how long they spend on remand, nor the number subsequently found guilty but given a non-custodial sentence (because Mr Pelling did not ask for these figures). Clive Fairweather CBE, former Chief Inspector of Prisons in Scotland, was right to have entitled his report on remand prisoners at the end of the last century Punishment First, Verdict Later.
These parliamentary answers should have shocked the Ministry of Justice into urgent inquiry into just how justly and efficiently its courts demand  the costly occupancy of remand prisons by persons who are subsequently found either not guilty or guilty but given a community sentence.  
The numbers are startling: one third as many ultimately-innocent defendants on remand (38,700 over three years) as there are those subsequently found guilty and sentenced to immediate custody (119,800 over three years).
Ms Eagle also provided data from the Offender Management Caseload Statistics which “indicate that during 2007 the average length of time served on remand was 55 days”.
A simple sum tells us that on average during 2005-07, the courts remanded to prison each year 12,900 ultimately-innocent defendants. If they indeed served an average of 55 days on remand then, each year in England and Wales, the ultimately-innocent were sent to prison for 12,900 times 55 = 709,500 prisoner-days, or 1,944 prisoner-years.
In other words, pre-sentence incarceration of the ultimately-innocent commandeered three moderately-size prisons (of around 600 inmates) at a cost of over £60 million a year. Even if their average time on remand was halved, the wasted prisoner-days, cost, and distress, are substantial.
Why has the Ministry of Justice collected official statistics which give the same shrill message year-on-year and yet not conducted a proper statistical investigation into why so many ultimately-innocent offenders are remanded to prison, how long they indeed languish there, and what feedback the possibly-different remanding and sentencing courts receive on their respective decisions which led to the costly incarceration on remand of so many defendants who were ultimately-innocent. How can courts’ performance be justly improved?
The UK could save potentially lots of prison places and lots of lolly by investing in a proper statistical investigation into the ‘proportionality’ of remand versus sentencing decisions. ‘Doing bird’ when ultimately innocent is, I suggest, an even bigger issue than how long to retain the DNA-profiles of innocent persons.