Concerns have been raised over the “heavy-handed” use of remand after it emerged that nearly one in five prisoners in Scotland are being held awaiting trial.
David Strang, the chief inspector of prisons, said in many cases remand was being used simply to ensure the accused would attend court.
Figures provided to the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee show there were 1,370 prisoners on remand at the end of last year, 18.7 per cent of the overall prison population.
The figure has risen consistently since 2000 when 951 prisoners (16.2 per cent of the prison population) were held on remand.
The pre-trial/remand rate was 25 per 100,000 of the population last year, compared with 19 per 100,000 in 2000.
In a submission to the justice committee, Mr Strang said: “I am concerned about the number of prisoners being held on remand.
“Many of the people held on remand do not receive a custodial sentence when the case is disposed of.
“In some cases, it appears that remand is used as a heavy-handed way to ensure that the accused attends court for their trial.”
Last year the Scottish Government held a consultation on extending the use of electronic monitoring of offenders as an alternative to remand.
It later published plans for a Management of Offenders Bill which would allow for increased use of tagging.
Mr Strang, a former chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, added: “In my view, remand should only be used in exceptional cases where it absolutely necessary to protect the public from serious harm or where there is clear evidence of a flight risk.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “While bail decisions are a matter for the courts, we are committed to reducing the unacceptably high rate of imprisonment in Scotland, which remains the second highest in western Europe.
“Remand is just as disruptive as short prison sentences. Short-term imprisonment disrupts families and communities, and adversely affects employment opportunities and stable housing – the very things that evidence shows supports desistance from offending.
“We’re taking forward a range of measures to reduce the use of ineffective short-term imprisonment in favour of robust community sentences, which help to reduce reoffending by supporting people to turn their lives around and in so doing, help keep crime down and our communities safer.”