PSNI opens purpose-built 21-cell custody suite

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has opened a new purpose-built 21-cell custody suite within its existing Waterside station site.

Dec 1, 2023
By Paul Jacques

Built at an estimated cost of £15 million, it will provide custody provision for the whole of the North West, from Coleraine to Strabane. It is expected the number of people detained in the facility per month will average between 400 and 500.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Ryan Henderson said: “The new Waterside custody suite, designed to operate with larger numbers of detained persons, is part of a wider modernisation and improvement of custody provision across Northern Ireland to keep all those within the custody environment safe, which includes detainees, staff and other users.

“At times, we deal with detainees whose needs are complex, and may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or may be experiencing a mental health crisis.

“It’s crucial our custody provision is fit-for-purpose and can continue to meet health and safety requirements while, at the same time, enable an efficient criminal justice process.”

Anyone detained, and who previously would have been taken into custody at Strand Road, which had nine cells, and Coleraine which had ten cells, will now go to Waterside, the PSNI said. Strand Road custody suite has consequently closed while the Coleraine suite will be used on an ad-hoc basis.

Mr Henderson added: “Preventing harm and keeping people safe in the custody environment is of paramount importance to us, in particular, those who are vulnerable.

“Working with key partners, particularly in Justice and Health, this new modern custody suite will allow us to meet the increasingly complex demands in relation to custody provision, and ensure we all meet the healthcare needs of people detained.”

The Waterside suite has a dedicated ‘sight-link’ court room with direct access to any courtroom in Northern Ireland.

The custody suite has been designed to include provision for detainees who are vulnerable, in particular those with neurodiversity needs and those with disabilities.

All of the cells have windows to allow as much natural light in as possible with lighting that can be dimmed if required. The new suite has provision for four cells with LED screens to assist in communication with vulnerable detainees, and exercise yards at the end of each cell wing.

As part of a regional custody healthcare service, there will be an embedded healthcare model, led by nurse practitioners, within Waterside custody suite.

This will see six specially trained custody nurse practitioners (CNPs) appointed by Belfast Health and Social Care Trust work as part of the custody team.

CNPs from an acute care background triage detainees in custody and can assess, treat and, when necessary, refer them on as appropriate.

This embedded service is operational at Musgrave station and involves PSNI, the Department of Health and the Department of Justice in partnership with the Public Health Agency.

Forensic medical officers will continue to play a vital role in delivering custody healthcare in Waterside and will continue to work on-call, the PSNI said.

Department of Health Permanent Secretary Peter May said: “This service provides Health and Social Care a unique opportunity to engage or re-engage with one of the most vulnerable populations in Northern Ireland.

“Since the introduction of the 24 hour nurse-led custody healthcare service, a number of referral pathways have been developed from police custody to both statutory and non-statutory services, such as referrals for mental health treatment, addictions treatment, and testing and treatment for blood-borne viruses. Belfast HSC custody nurse practitioners have treated patients in Musgrave Street (Belfast) and Antrim police custody suites, which has substantially reduced the requirement for ambulances to attend the two police stations.

“I look forward to seeing this service being regionalised across all police custody suites in the future.”

Northern Ireland Policing Board chair Deirdre Toner added: “The Board welcomes the opening of this new suite which modernises police custody provision in the North West. It is positive that Waterside can now provide dedicated on-site healthcare support which will ensure that people detained can receive appropriate care and support, particularly those who are more vulnerable.”

Richard Pengelly CB, Permanent Secretary, Department of Justice welcomed the opening of the new custom built custody suite at Waterside.

“The facility will allow PSNI to deliver custody provision which covers a range of areas, including healthcare, in an environment that meets the needs of both detainees and staff.  It is a great example of what can be achieved through partnership working,” he said.

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