Pre Trial Detention

In many countries, a majority of people in prison have not yet been tried or convicted. In some, pre-trial detainees represent over three quarters of all prisoners. These include Liberia (97 percent), Mali (89 percent), Haiti (84 percent), Andorra (77 percent), Niger (c.76 percent), and Bolivia (75 percent). These high rates are particularly common in post conflict countries where the criminal justice system does not function. Pre-trial prisoners are not being held in detention as a punishment and international regulations make a number of rules which protect their special status.

Detainees who have not yet been convicted must always be treated as innocent although paradoxically in practice in many countries pre-trial prisoners are kept in the worst conditions and do not have access to the same services or contact with the outside world as do convicted prisoners. Prisons can make efforts to ensure that periods in pre-trial detention are kept as short as possible. If the period of pre-trial detention is subject to specific time limits prisons have a role in monitoring those arrangements and ensure that detainees are not held beyond the authorized date.

There are various rules in respect of pre-trial and unconvicted detainees – they cannot be forced to work, for example but should be given the opportunity to do so if they wish. They should be allowed sufficient time out of cell in the company of other prisoners in order to maintain good mental and physical health. All detainees should have access to a range of activities which allow them to exercise. They should also have access to the open air for a significant part of each day (minimum one hour per day). In some countries pre-trial detainees are excluded from prison activities, such as vocational training, education and work, due to their unconvicted status. Taking into account the long periods many pre-trial detainees spend in prison, it is important for prison authorities to ensure that pre-trial detainees are given an opportunity to participate in all prison activities, similar to convicted prisoners.