Presumption of Guilt: The Global Overuse of Pretrial Detention

Around the world, millions are effectively punished before they are tried. Legally entitled to be considered innocent and released pending trial, many accused are instead held in pretrial detention, where they are subjected to torture, exposed to life threatening disease, victimized by violence, and pressured for bribes. It is literally worse than being convicted: pretrial detainees routinely experience worse conditions than sentenced prisoners. The suicide rate among pretrial detainees is three times higher than among convicted prisoners, and ten times that of the outside community. Pretrial detention harms individuals, families, and communities; wastes state resources and human potential; and undermines the rule of law.

The arbitrary and excessive use of pretrial detention is a massive and widely ignored pattern of human rights abuse that affects—by a conservative estimate—15 million people a year. The right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty is universal, but at this moment some 3.3 million people are behind bars, waiting for a trial that may be months or even years away. No right is so broadly accepted in theory, but so commonly violated in practice. It is fair to say that the global overuse of pretrial detention is the most overlooked human rights crisis of our time.

Presumption of Guilt examines the full consequences of the global overuse of pretrial detention. Combining statistical analysis, first-person accounts, graphics, and case studies of successful reforms, the report is the first to comprehensively document this widespread but frequently ignored form of human rights abuse.