SNP ministers have been urged to curb under-18s being held on remand after it was revealed that hundreds of teenagers have been retained in custody without being convicted over the past three years.

In March 2022, the Scottish Government vowed that under-18s would no longer to sent to young offender institutions in Scotland – with the Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill, currently undergoing Holyrood scrutiny, setting out the pledge in law.

But responses to parliamentary questions have revealed that since April 2020, 260 under-18s were held on remand including 86 since the Scottish Government’s commitment.

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In 2022-23, a young person was remanded in custody for more than a year.

On nine occasions, people under the age of 18 were held on remand in a prison establishment that was not a designated young offenders institute.

Eight under-18s were held in HMP Inverness, and one in Edinburgh, between 2020 and 2023, either before being transferred to a young offenders institution or while awaiting a court appearance.

Former prison officer Rab Baird has told an inquiry that 16-year-old William Brown, "was not taken care of" properly at Polmont young offenders institution.

The teenager was admitted to Polmont Young Offenders Institution on October 4, 2018, and was found dead in his cell three days later.

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The Scottish Liberal Democrats are now calling on the Scottish Government to directly fund places in secure accommodation instead, a proposal which has also been supported by the chief inspector of prisons, the children's commissioner and others including the Children and Young People's Centre for Justice and Community Justice Scotland.

LibDems MSP, Liam McArthur, said: “The excessive use of remand is one of the Scottish prison system's most pernicious problems.

“It’s bad for both the rights of the accused but also victims who are prevented from seeing justice done.

“In a small number of cases there will be people under the age of 18 who commit heinous crimes and they need to be in a secure environment but for everybody else custody must be a last resort.”

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He added: "Young people should not be pushed through the doors of Polmont, even as a temporary or interim measure, simply because the government hasn’t invested in any alternative provision, especially when they have not yet been convicted. It’s a recipe for more tragedies like that of William Brown.

“While commitments to end the use of young offender institutions for under-18s are a step in the right direction, in the meantime the Scottish Government should be funding secure care places where young people can get help and support, in a setting which is better suited to their needs than a prison.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats also want to see targeted action to tackle the backlog in court cases which will help to reduce the reliance on remand as a tool.”

Nicola Killean, Children and Young People's Commissioner for Scotland, said: “Being held in prison – including in a young offenders’ institution – can have long-lasting impacts on a child’s emotional and social development, as well as negatively affecting mental and physical health.

“These children are often already traumatised, they may have been abused and neglected, and prison is simply not the appropriate setting for them.”

The Scottish Government has pointed to its legislation passing through Holyrood which will ensure no under 18s are held in young offender institutions.

A Scottish Government spokesperson, said: “As of January 26, there was just one under-18 on remand in YOI in Scotland.

“The number on remand has been consistently low (under 10) since August 2022.”