Positive practices in custody provision but some ‘areas of concern’, says HMICFRS

Avon and Somerset Constabulary has clear governance arrangements for the provision of custody services, but there are “key areas of concern” that need improvement, according to inspectors.

May 17, 2024
By Paul Jacques

In particular, there were concerns over the length of time children spend in custody and the management of those at risk of self-harm, said His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

The finding follow an inspection of the force’s three custody suites in Bridgwater, Keynsham and Patchway, between January 8 and 19 this year.

In its subsequent report, HMICFRS alongside the Care Quality Commission, recognised the “clear governance strategy we have for managing custody, including the role senior leaders play”, the force said.

The report noted good work by custody personnel including:

  • Showing a caring attitude, with detainees giving positive responses about the care they had received in custody;
  • Keeping custody centres well-maintained and clean;
  • Being patient with violent and volatile detainees in attempts to de-escalate situations, using effective communication and negotiation;
  • ‘Good evidence’ of diverting prisoners with mental health illness away from custody where appropriate;
  • Demonstrating a ‘strong commitment’ to keeping children out of custody where appropriate;
  • Comprehensive training in line with College of Policing standards’; and
  • A commitment to transparency and good relationships with independent custody visitors.

However, inspectors also made a number of recommendations about how the force can improve its service.

In particular, reducing the amount of time children spend in custody, including improvements to seeking alternative accommodation for them if refused bail after charge.

In addition, better management of risk assessments, and in particular recording more in-depth information and conducting more regular reviews of care plans, was needed.

“Going forward we are ensuring line managers monitor the quality of reviews and care plans, and the issue is monitored in staff’s individual performance assessments,” the force said.

Inspectors also highlighted increasing observation as a way of improving management of prisoners at risk of self-harm.

“The suggestions included including finding a quieter location to monitor CCTV, which is a change we have already made,” said the force.

Completing more regular safety maintenance checks in line with national guidance and reviewing highlighted areas where potential safety and privacy concerns were also raised.

HMICFRS also recommended allocating a female officer or member of staff to oversee the care and welfare needs of girls in custody Avon and Somerset Constabulary said this was a policy that was in place but is one that has been formalised since the inspection.

It added: “While our commitment to equality around gender and ethnicity was recognised, inspectors found in almost eight per cent of cases the detainee’s ethnicity was not recorded. Steps are being taken to improve this as we recognise the important of data quality.

“The use of PAVA incapacitant spray in custody was found to have reduced, but remains higher than they usually see. Inspectors did review 34 incidents where there was use of force and in two cases they identified some learning for us. These have been debriefed and learning shared throughout custody.

“Feedback was given to us in-person that custody inspectors were carrying out reviews too early. This was changed during the course of the inspection.”

Assistant Chief Constable Joanne Hall said: “Last year we made almost 20,000 arrests and therefore it means our custody suites are always busy.

“Each detainee’s circumstances and needs are different and it is important that we ensure everyone is kept safe while under our care.

“It is pleasing to hear the HMICFRS positively recognise the good standard of the facilities we have, as well as the strong commitment we have to keeping children out of custody and the work we carry out with mental health partners. This is a testament to the hard work and commitment of everyone who works in custody.

“As a police service we believe in the importance of learning and therefore accept the recommendations we have received to further improve our practices.

“Although this report may have been published today, the invaluable feedback we received from inspectors during the course of their visit has enabled us to quickly take proactive steps to already improve the service we offer in our custody suites.

“One area of significant change has been around risk management to ensure we keep detainees safe. The use of ‘rouse and respond’ checks for detainees who are intoxicated has also significantly increased compared with the same period last year.

“We recognise the increased vulnerability children have and across the organisation we seek to avoid criminalising juveniles where appropriate. It is important we seek to minimise the time they spend within custody, such as prioritising them during the booking in process where possible.

“There can sometimes be challenges in securing alternative accommodation for children who are not granted bail, but we continue to work closely with partner agencies to resolve these on a case by case basis.

“We welcome this inspection and the positive findings within it. Recommendations of the HMICFRS are being used to help us make necessary changes, as we continue to strive to become an outstanding police service.”

Police and crime commissioner Clare Moody said: There were some positive findings but also some key areas of concern that relate to children in custody, the management of those at risk of self-harm, the recording of ethnicity of detainees and allocation of female officers to oversee the care of girls in custody.

“Having questioned the chief constable about these findings, I am confident that Avon and Somerset Police are already taking steps to address the recommendations and the areas for improvement.

“I am already considering and discussing with my team how I will strengthen and oversee the HMICFRS inspection recommendations as part of our governance processes.

“My team will also be following up on how our Independent Custody Visitors (ICV) Scheme, a legal duty my office is responsible for delivering, can support the governance processes going forward.”

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