A report by the HMICRS ( Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services criticises Nottinghamshire Police’s handling of detention in its custody suites.
A joint report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services identified five key causes of concern requiring immediate action:
- In “too many areas” the force was not meeting the requirements of legislation or guidance, particularly Police and Criminal Evidence Act codes of practice. Reviews of detention by inspectors were poor, particularly so in cases where they reviewed the detention of children or vulnerable adults without talking to them face-to-face.
- The culture of the custody service was not effective in focusing on the fair and equitable treatment of all detainees and “some custody staff took punitive actions against detainees that were not justified and potentially unfair.” In some cases, cell call bells were ignored or muted.
- The recording and reporting of “adverse incidents” in custody were not adequate in ensuring that all incidents were identified appropriately and dealt with in line with legislative requirements. Inspectors referred a case that the force should have recorded as an adverse incident directly to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
- The governance and oversight of the use of force in custody were not adequate.
- There was a lack of appropriate care and focus on the safe release of detainees, including the most vulnerable. The report noted: “Custody officers did not routinely ask detainees how they planned to travel home or check if they had the means to travel after their release. During the inspection, we saw detainees who were vulnerable leaving the custody suite, during the night, in pyjamas, and others released without shoes, yet staff did not notice this.”
Overall, inspectors found that staff were not always deployed in the most effective way, tasks and responsibilities were not clearly defined, and the suites, in particular the Bridewell in central Nottingham, were disorganised and at times chaotic.
Custody suites were dated, and the conditions of the suites had deteriorated since the last inspection in 2013. Inspectors noted: “Some cells were uncomfortably cold, and cleaning arrangements were not always good enough. We found potential ligature points in all three suites.”
Nottinghamshire had a focus on diverting vulnerable people away from custody. However, too many children who were charged and had bail refused were detained overnight when alternative local authority accommodation should have been provided. The report noted, though, that care for children in custody was mostly good.
On a more positive note, staff were found to be “generally patient when dealing with challenging detainees. Handcuffs were removed quickly from compliant detainees, and strip-searching was justified and properly authorised.” The care provided by custody staff to detainees was, however, inconsistent. Although most were given food and drinks at regular intervals, other aspects of care, such as access to exercise, showers and reading material, were not offered routinely.
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Wendy Williams, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said:
“Overall this inspection found that many aspects of custody services were not being delivered to the standards expected or required. There had been too little progress since our last inspection in 2013, and we identified several causes of concern and areas requiring improvement.”
In response Nottinghamshire Police said:
A report into findings from an unannounced inspection visit to the force’s custody suites has been released today.
The Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) identified a number of recommendations that the force has accepted and continues to resolve.
ACC Steve Cooper said: “We welcome the report from HMICFRS, which notified us of a number of recommendations in October 2018, many of which we have already addressed and improvements made.
“We have allocated significant financial investment and put plans in place to build a new Nottingham custody suite in the city, which will provide a state of the art building, provisions and workplace which addresses a number of issues identified in the report that result from an aged main Bridewell facility that was built to standards applicable more than 25 years ago and which fall below our expectations today.
“We continue to work hard to increase policing numbers to bolster the number of resources we have available to deal with prisoners, in an extremely busy and complex area of policing.
“Nottinghamshire sees significantly more detainees coming through its doors every month than its neighbouring forces – with an average of around 1500 prisoners a month, many of whom have complex needs that we need to cater for. We have changed many of our working practices in custody, with dedicated visible leadership and local accountability now a key part of the new approach.
“We have learnt lessons from this inspection and have introduced a continuous improvement and development plan, which is overseen by a Chief Inspector, and scrutinised by a Chief Officer.
“The officers and staff who work in our custody suites do a difficult job, dealing with high numbers of prisoners, many of whom are vulnerable, each with individual requirements. We want to ensure they have the appropriate training, have awareness of all the policies and procedures that need to be applied and are able to deliver a professional and effective service to the public.
“The inspection found a good understanding of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, with both groups being prioritised in custody. Alternative accommodation is also preferred to help deter children away from custody, and we are working with local authorities to improve the options available. Mental health liaison and diversion services were deemed very good, and included a range of outreach and follow-up work post-release.
“Working with our partners, including academia, charities, the College of Policing and others, we want to continue to find innovative ways to deter people from committing crime, to reduce the numbers of people passing through custody by using restorative justice and voluntary attendance.
“We welcome scrutiny of our practices, and we regularly invite independent custody visitors to review what we do. There will always be room for improvement, but by investing in our estate, and regularly monitoring the progress of recommendations while supporting our officers and staff, we will deliver the standards expected and required.”
Christine Shellard, an independent custody visitor, said; “I have served as a custody visitor for the Nottinghamshire Police for many years and remain convinced that all members of our team, efficiently organised by an excellent scheme manager, make a very positive difference to the detainees we visit always aiming to support the custody staff in their very demanding work.
“As an independent volunteer I am frequently impressed by the care taken by the police with these vulnerable members of the public striving to ensure that they receive their rights and entitlements during an extremely stressful life experience.
“We endeavour to particularly assist juveniles, females, those with language barriers and those with mental health issues.
“Our reports are dealt with promptly and any issues and concerns raised are regularly considered and acted upon.”