What Happens After Your Arrest, and When you Go to Court?

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the process of going to prison. Various films and programmes have instilled us with images of intimidating overnight cells, harsh judges and unfair policemen – but just how much of this is factual, and how much is simply good drama for the TV audiences?

This post examines what happens in the days after your arrest, and also when you attend court. It also features accounts from both ex- and current inmates, providing the real picture on what life is like leading up to a prison sentence.

 gavel and handcuffs, first time in prison

The Process of Arrest – According to the Government

The official government website outlines a clear process – identifying exactly what happens after an individual has committed a crime.


  1. Arrest and custody. After an arrest, the perpetrator is taken to a police station, where they are held in custody in a cell. During this time, the custody officer will read their rights. Those held in custody have the right to:
  • Free legal advice
  • Contact someone to let them know what has happened
  • Receive medical attention if unwell or injured
  • Access the Code of Practice, which outlines how police must legally behave during the custody process
  • Receive regular breaks to go to the toilet and eat

2.  During custody, the individual can expect to be searched, and for their possessions to be taken by the police for the duration of time they’re in the police cell. They will also need to have their fingerprints and various samples taken from them, plus a photograph. Anyone under the age of 18 has the right to contact an ‘appropriate adult’ to be with them whilst they’re in custody.

3. Custody duration. Legally, the police are permitted to hold individuals for up to 24 hours. If by this time they cannot charge the person with a crime, they have to release them. If suspected of a serious crime (such as murder), they are permitted to hold the individual for as long as 96 hours. If arrested under the Terrorism Act, this can be extended to 14 days.

4. Release on bail. If the police are unable to gather enough evidence to make a charge, they will release the individual on police bail. This does not incur a fee, however, the person may be asked to return for further questioning if required. The police may issue a release on conditional bail after charging the individual, if they believe that the person in question might commit a further offence, refuse to attend their court hearing, intimidate witnesses or in some way obstruct the course of justice. Conditional bail generally incurs some sort of restriction – for example, a curfew.

5. Charging and court. If charged with a crime, the individual will be given a charge sheet, outlining the details of the incident. They can then either return home on bail until the court date, or remain in police custody. The first court hearing will either be at a magistrate’s court or at a virtual court, using online technology. If it’s decided that the crime was a serious one, it’s likely the perpetrator will be sent to prison until their official trail begins. This is referred to as being ‘on remand’.

The Real Experience

 The process of arrest, custody, bail and sentencing can vary considerably from person to person. For one of the inmates we spoke to, currently held at HMP Humber, the process was incredibly fast. He informed us that he ‘got arrested on Thursday and went to court on Friday’, then at court, was immediately put on remand, as he was already on bail for a previous offence.

However, for other people, the process can be much more protracted. For Alex Cavendish, (Author of PrisonUK An insider’s view ) now out of prison, the journey from initial arrest to prison sentence took over a year. He told us that: ‘I was arrested just before Christmas and was released on police bail for some months before I was informed that I would be charged. Then I was on court bail for a further year.’

Like many people, after arrest, Cavendish returned to work, but didn’t mention the situation to anyone ‘other than immediate family’. It was only after receiving his charge that he started focusing on preparing his defence.


Arrest, Custody and Court Issues

  •  Racism. Alarmingly, despite the fact that the UK’s police and prison services have come under scrutiny for racism since the 1970s, reports suggest that the situation has not improved much. According to a study carried out by Professor David Wilson (a professor of criminology) and Sharon Moore (Principal Practice and Policy Manager for The Children’s Society), black people, ‘whether young or old, male or female’, still remain over-represented in custody.

The report concluded that the disproportionate figures was as a result of ‘institutional racism’ – which still manifested itself through operational policing, bail decisions, prosecution, remand and sentencing.


  • Lack of provision for those with mental health problems. Of course, if an individual has committed a crime, then the first logical step is to remove them from society (where they may pose further threat to others and themselves) until a sentence can be passed. However, according to recent statistics, 161 young people with serious mental health problems have recently been locked up overnight in prison cells, when actually, they require support and medical care. As Lord Victor Adebowale writes, ‘mental illness is not a crime. So it is unacceptable that anyone – children or adults – should be put behind bars when suffering mental distress. And the police should not be the ones who pick up the pieces because the system cannot cope.’


  • Children in cells. According to a recent BBC report, hundreds of children are being held in prison cells overnight, due to ‘shrinking resources’. This is despite the fact that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act clearly states that under 18s held in custody should be ‘transferred to the care of the local authority.’ As Enver Solomon, director of policy and impact at the National Children’s Bureau states: ‘Children will be confused, bewildered and often feel frightened by what is an intimidating environment. The whole experience can be deeply traumatic and do great harm, particularly for those who are already very vulnerable.’

What do You Think?

 Do you think the current system of arrest, custody, bail and court sentencing works, or do you believe it is failing certain members of our society? Share your thoughts with us via our Twitter and Facebook pages.


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