When I heard about the custody record review pilot from ICVA, my ears immediately pricked up and I knew it was something I wanted our scheme to be involved in. It felt like perfect timing.
My colleague Ruth and I took over as scheme managers a couple of years ago and, since then, the scheme has been through something of a journey. It has grown in so many ways – volunteer numbers, their experience, confidence and diversity as well as increasing the numbers of visits to custody. The premise of the pilot resonated with me – to be able to see beyond the snapshot that our volunteers currently get when they undertake their custody visits and to provide an evidence base to lots of things we (the scheme) think we know but which are currently just a feeling.
This was one of the biggest appeals of the pilot. The outcomes from Derbyshire, who instigated the pilot, clearly outlined the benefit of a huge evidence base that is gathered from the custody record reviews. This data will help Gloucestershire Constabulary and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gloucestershire (OPCC) in so many ways – to better manage contracts, improve record keeping, provide the ability to raise issues with agencies and partners on an informed basis, and will help fulfil the statutory holding to account function of the PCC.
As the pilot will focus on those with vulnerabilities, women, children and detainees with recorded mental health issues, it aligns well with the current work that the scheme and the wider PCC’s office are already doing. In November 2018 we took part in some ICVA facilitated female detainee research and, as part of wider rehabilitation and reducing re-offending ambitions, are looking to introduce a scheme to divert women who have offended from custody. The Constabulary already has a fantastic ‘Children’s First’ diversion scheme which has significantly reduced the number of children coming into custody and increased the number of children being diverted away from the criminal justice system. Mental health is an underlying theme of much of the work the Constabulary does and is an area the OPCC is increasingly focusing on.
I was really pleased that the ‘pitch’ to the Chief Officer Group of the Constabulary was met with overwhelming support. There is already a good relationship between the ICVs, me as scheme manager and the Constabulary, who understand the role of the ICV and value how they are a critical friend and therefore help drive improvements with this pilot very much being seen as a natural progression. The level of engagement from the custody teams has also been great. They have questions about the reviews and how it will all work but, once explained, have quickly realised the value of such scrutiny and several have already suggested to me areas the ICVs could look at which they recognise need improvement and would welcome feedback on.
It hasn’t all been easy. It has been time and resource intensive to get ready for the pilot – we’ve had to think about extra resources and practicalities such as data sharing, redaction of records and how to facilitate the visits but, with a common sense approach, none of these have been a barrier and we are now good to go, with the first review taking place on 12th September. It’s exciting, being part of something that could change a process that hasn’t really been updated or modernised for quite some time. We could be shaping the future of custody visiting and that’s a powerful motivator.
None of this would be possible without our volunteers. They are the key to this pilot and I’m grateful for all they already to do to make our scheme run as well as it does. Ever since the pilot was first discussed with them, they have unanimously and wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to grow and develop. As I see it, it not only provides the ICVs with additional training, something they have been keen to undertake for some time, but helps develops their individual and collective worth and value even further and increases their independence and therefore the level of public trust in what they do.
We are really proud of our volunteers – they are so committed and have risen to the challenges we have set them, with this pilot providing a great way to grow their confidence even further whilst providing a vital resource for the OPCC and the wider Constabulary.