Interview

Unclear fates behind bars

Millions of people around the world are held in prison pending trial or on remand, report finds. They often face worse detention conditions than sentenced prisoners.

Pre-trial detention is meant to be exceptional and used as a last resort. However, at least three million prisoners around the world 1 are held in pre-trial and remand, roughly one-fourth of the total prison population. And the numbers are growing. Some remand prisoners await their uncertain fate for several months or years.

Catherine Heard directs the world prison research programme at the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research (ICPR), Birkbeck, University of London 2. The Institute recently published its 4th edition of official figures on pre-trial and remand prisoners. Another qualitative report, written in collaboration with Helen Fair, discusses the overuse of pre-trial detention in 10 countries. Prisoner Insider asked her three questions.


  1. The total number is likely to be more than three million, considering figures hidden or omitted from official records in nine countries. 

  2. The ICPR hosts and updates the World Prison Brief database of imprisonment figures at the world level. They also publish qualitative studies to better examine details emerging from this numerical data. 

We know that conditions for pre-trial detainees are often worse than for sentenced prisoners

In the Americas, the total pre-trial population increased by 60%. Since 2000, numbers have more than doubled in Brazil, Paraguay, El Salvador and Venezuela.

Both sentenced and pre-trial detainees face greater risks to safety when prisons are overcrowded.

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