PCC visits Crawley custody to check the welfare of detainees
The most recent HMICFRS inspection report into Sussex Police custody was published on Thursday March 5. In light of the findings, Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne visited Crawley custody with Acting Chief Inspector, Mark Evans to see improvements that have already been made. Two of her Independent Custody Visitors accompanied her to speak with detainees and report on the protocols in place to keep them safe and ensure their human rights are upheld.
The HMICFRS inspection was carried out between 4th-15th November 2019 with Brighton, Worthing, Eastbourne, Chichester, Hasting and Crawley police stations assessed.
The report acknowledged strong governance arrangements across the entire Sussex estate and highlighted a genuine emphasis and understanding around protecting vulnerable people and diverting them (especially young people) from custody.
However, recommendations made in their 2016 inspection had yet to be met in some cases. These included, identified ligature points across the estate which could pose as a risk to detainees (although other measures are in place to mitigate these) and outdated CCTV with little privacy provided for when detainees are using the toilet.
Works are in hand to update facilities at the 27-cell Crawley site with a £730,000 investment to address these concerns. Mrs Bourne was given an extensive tour of this suite and was pleased to see improvements have already been made.
“We welcome external scrutiny and the findings from this inspection have spearhead a new working group in Sussex Police to address causes for concern, with many already rectified. When people are arrested or detained in police custody they are still innocent until proven guilty. It’s so important that their basic human rights are upheld and they are kept safe. Privacy is now given to detainees whilst using the toilet with black out spots and the small ligature points found are being addressed in the custody upgrades.”
The successful completion of a two-year project to refurbish the custody suite at Hastings police station, re-opened in September 2019, has helped to benchmark the physical standards for custody.
Following the completion of improvement works at Crawley, the other sites supported by private finance initiatives (PFI) - Brighton, Eastbourne and Worthing - will receive a similar upgrade.
Mrs Bourne has been negotiating changes to the PFI agreement over the last year to enable this to happen and as it is not operationally possible to close more than one site at a time, progress has inevitably been affected.
Mrs Bourne adds: “We are now in a better place to upgrade our custody estate and I was pleased to see work already underway to improve Crawley custody. Meeting with the staff there and Chief Inspector Mark Evans, I can see that they are all committed to keeping detainees safe and treated with respect.”
Acting Chief Inspector Mark Evans commented: “There are areas that have clearly been identified that we need to improve but what stood out for me was the care and compassion our staff give to detainees and that is vitally important. When people come here they can be detained for anywhere up to 24 hours. Many are under the influence, distressed and emotional and they need to be looked after and treated with professionalism and respect.”
The PCC has a team of Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) who carry out unannounced visits to custody to check on the welfare of detainees. Inspectors recognised that the Force was open to this external scrutiny and Mrs Bourne was joined by volunteers John and Sheila on her visit.
John said: “I wanted to do something different with my free time. I think it’s really important that the people in custody are being treated properly. We all automatically think that everyone arrested and detained is going to be aggressive but that is not always the case. 90% of the time they are happy to see us and speak to us – grateful that somebody is checking in on them at a very distressing and emotional time.”
When asked what difference their presence makes to those detained Sheila said: “We’re a friendly face really. They disclose how they feel with us and make requests for simple things like blankets. We make sure that they have been offered food, water and time to speak to their lawyer if needed.”
These volunteers have won national recognition for working with Sussex Police on improvements, including providing female detainees with sanitary packs.
Sheila added: “As volunteers we have made a huge difference already and our scrutiny has led to significant changes being made to custody protocols. For example, female detainees are now offered sanitary packs – basic things that will mean they can maintain some of their dignity.”
The report also highlighted good practice in how Sussex Police work with partners to divert those with mental health issues away from detention in custody. Since the law changed in December 2017, Sussex Police could not use a police custody suite as a place of safety for those suffering with mental health issues – officers within the Force have fully complied with this.
Mrs Bourne witnessed for herself on Friday somebody with clear mental health issues turned away from custody and escorted by officers to a local hospital for proper treatment.
“I witnessed firsthand a distressed man brought into custody who was almost immediately assessed by the Sergeant as having mental health issues. The man, who did not speak English, was aided by a Romanian female officer who was able to de-escalate the situation and translate. He was taken by officers to an identified safe place to receive the care he required by mental health professionals.
“Those officers were then duty bound to stay with him until a bed was made available in a local hospital. They told me that this type of call out happens every day and takes up anywhere between 8-12 hours of their time. The strain this places on police resources is astronomical and is a national issue that needs to be addressed.”
Notes for editors
HMICFRS custody inspection report: https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/inspections/sussex-police-custody/