The proportion of defendants in criminal cases imprisoned pre-trial is indicative of the efficiency and equity of a nation's penal and judicial system. Where pre-trial prisoners are high in ratio to convicted prison inmates, it is a danger signal that human rights are being violated. While fluctuating crime rates and average lengths of sentences affect this ratio, it obviously bears social and legal investigation when, for example, numbers of prisoners have not been brought to trial even after months of incarceration.
In the UK for example, there is an ever increasing number of prisoners kept in less than humane conditions in police cells, and delays for prisoners in custody from arrest to trial have increased from 23 days in 1979 to 41 days in 1982. Around 1,400 prisoners on any one day have been in custody and awaiting trial for over 110 days. Other examples are Belgium, with 1997 figures indicating 40% of total inmates are awaiting trial; and Venezuela, where the proportion of cases held pre-trial is excessive: 11,412 out of 14,425 inmates - almost 80%.