Around 30 percent of the prison population worldwide is made up of pre-trial detainees not yet convicted of a crime. Many are held due to lack of alternatives or because they cannot afford to pay a bail fee. Pre-trial detention undermines the chance of a fair trial and the rule of law.
The majority of those faced with criminal law know little of their rights. Many countries do not have an adequate legal aid system and many people cannot afford to pay for a lawyer. If they can, preparing for a trial from a prison cell can be an arduous task.
People in pre-trial detention are particularly likely to suffer violence and abuse. This risk stems not only from prison staff and people in prison, but police also use illegal force or torture to gain a statement or confession. Without legal assistance, and isolated from family and friends, withstanding pressure is not easy. The prevalence of pre-trial detention contributes to prison overcrowding, exacerbating poor prison conditions and heightening the risk of torture and ill-treatment.
Considering the severe and often irreversible negative effects, international law states that pre-trial detention should be the exception, not the rule. If there is a risk, for example, of a person absconding, then the least intrusive measures possible should be applied. A range of non-custodial measures are available, including bail, confiscation of travel documents, reporting to police or other authorities and submitting to electronic monitoring or curfews. Alternatives are less expensive, and savings made could be better invested in creating a just and effective criminal justice system, with more thorough investigations, more judges, quicker procedures and improved prison conditions. However, in many countries pre-trial detention continues to be imposed systematically on those suspected of a criminal offence without considering whether it is necessary or proportionate, or if less intrusive measures could be applied.
We advocate for pre-trial detention to be used only in exceptional circumstances, in line with international human rights standards. We will help to develop and promote alternatives. In addition, we will promote access to legal aid and ensure places of pre-trial detention are effectively monitored by independent monitoring bodies.
Alternatives to imprisonment
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