Howard League produces guide to help young adults on remand to understand their legal rights

A guide to help young adults understand their legal rights if they are remanded in custody has been published by the Howard League for Penal Reform.

The colourful 36-page guide, which was developed in workshops with young adults in prison, is aimed at 18- to 25-year-olds, but it may also be helpful to older adults on remand.

It begins by explaining what it means to be remanded and how young adults can get advice and support to apply for bail. It then covers how social services may be able to help.

The guide goes on to explain what a young adult’s rights are in prison, including special rights if they have not been convicted of an offence, and what they can do if they are not getting their entitlements.

It also explains how a young adult can find a solicitor, who else they can contact for advice and support, and what the rules are around contacting their legal advisers.

Alongside the guide, the Howard League has also published a detailed briefing aimed at practitioners and policymakers, which explains that, while young adults account for only eight per cent of people in prison, they make up 20 per cent of the remand population.

The two publications were completed as the total number of people remanded in prison in England and Wales reached its highest level for at least half a century.

Sinead MacCann, Managing Solicitor at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Young adults aged 18 to 25 are a distinct group who are still maturing as their brains continue to develop.

“The need for a distinct approach for young adults has been recognised in some parts of the criminal justice system. However, focus tends to be on those who have been convicted and are being, or have been, sentenced; more attention must be paid to those awaiting trial or sentencing.

“Young adults on remand have told us that they find the legal process confusing and unfair. We hope that this guide will help them to better understand their rights and how they can access support.”

The briefing, titled What’s wrong with remanding young adults to prison: voices and lessons learned, was put together with the help of remanded young adults aged 18 to 20 in a male Category B prison.

Speaking about his experience in court, one young adult told the Howard League: “It’s not easy to understand the court process. The English they use is mad. I don’t understand half the time. It should be easier to understand.”

He went on to describe his experience of applying for bail and trying to get the attention of his legal representative to give his instructions in court.

He said: “The judge was looking at me, thinking I was aggressive because I was tapping on the window. He thinks I look aggressive. Because I’m in the dock. I’m innocent until proven guilty but I looked guilty. Guilty until proven innocent is what it is.”

Another young adult, speaking a week before his trial, said that he had not seen any of his case papers. He said that he felt the prosecution “want me to go in with my eyes closed”.

The briefing reveals that many young people do not understand why they have been refused bail, or who they can speak to about the decision. Young people spoke of receiving inadequate legal advice and a lack of support to find accommodation when applying for bail.

Once on remand, many are kept beyond the six-month custody time limit and often experience significant delays in sentencing.  Young people also experienced poor induction processes restricted access to work, education and facilities, and insufficient mental health support.

The briefing highlights that remand is used disproportionately against Black, Brown and racially minoritised young adults, with Black young people making up 26 per cent of 18- to 20-year-olds on remand compared to only six per cent in the general population.

Black, Brown and racially minoritised people also spend considerably longer on remand compared to their white counterparts. In 2022, Black prisoners spent, on average, 302 days on remand, compared with 272 days for mixed-race prisoners, 262 days for Asian prisoners and 177 days for white prisoners.

The guide was produced with the support of the Barrow Cadbury Trust. The Trust convenes the Transition to Adulthood Alliance ( The briefing calls for young adults on remand to have specialist lawyers, better and more holistic support, a greater recognition of maturity in relevant guidance, and for remand to be used only as a last resort.