Menopause in Police Custody


October 27, 2023

Menopause in Police Custody: Progress in establishing a new referral pathway and sharing of good practice in NPM.

The menopause is a natural, hormonal transition, and yet only now is the understanding of symptoms and impact of those symptoms beginning to be more widely understood and acknowledged in society, but what awareness and care is there for those who are deprived of their liberty by the State? 

ICVA, the membership organisation for independent custody visiting schemes, has duties under the UK’s international human rights obligations to contribute to the prevention of degrading treatment of detainees.[1]

As part of this duty, ICVA has worked with the Sussex Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner on a project to establish a new referral pathway in police custody in England and Wales. All women entering custody aged 40 and over[2] will be asked at the point of being booked in to custody if they would like to speak to someone from healthcare regarding peri-menopause, menopause or post-menopause symptoms. If the detainee accepts this offer, they will then see a healthcare practitioner to discuss their individual needs and a care plan can be produced for their time in police custody.

This care plan could include entitlements around physical comfort such as access to additional blankets/access to more frequent showers/cool drinking water and so on, could include things like memory aids such as pen and paper, distraction items to assist with stress and anxiety reduction and could trigger the PACE vulnerability safeguard of the detainee getting an appropriate adult.

A top priority in police custody or indeed any kind of detention must always be the effective and individualised care of those detained. Detainees are rendered uniquely vulnerable by their detained status and are reliant on the State for their basic needs and care. In a police custody context, detainees must be able to engage fully with the justice process and have effective safeguards in place to allow them to do so. The needs and dignity of detainees must be a primary concern.

The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex has led on this workstream and has written on the progress achieved with ICVA and other partners here.

Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne commented:

“We know that there are approximately 13 million peri or post-menopausal women in the UK and, for many, the symptoms can be debilitating.

When people get placed in custody, they are detainees not prisoners and they are innocent until proven guilty. Ensuring they have access to age and gender-specific health care provisions allows detainees to be better engaged with the custody process.

The comprehensive work carried out by my Sussex Independent Custody Visitor Team, along with the Manager Claire Taylor, and in conjunction with partners including ICVA, NPCC, NHS and the College of Policing, is truly ground-breaking. Their collaboration and detailed research has had a great impact and will now help all custody centres in the UK to increase their knowledge and understanding of the effect of menopause on detainees.”


Please do take a read of this important development for police custody with thanks to Sussex, the National Police Chiefs Council, the College of Policing and NHS stakeholders for their swift action. ICVA and Sussex OPCC have produced a training module for independent custody visitors on menopause awareness to assist with monitoring this group of detainees effectively and ensuring appropriate, individualised care is in place.

As part of this thematic work, ICVA and the Sussex PCC and scheme manager attended an All-Party Parliamentary Group on the menopause and criminal justice system. It was evident that there was a piecemeal approach to providing effective care for those experiencing symptoms of peri/post/menopause in the criminal justice system. We left thinking about what we could do to help/influence in this area, thinking outside of our specific remit in police custody.

The UK National Preventive Mechanism was established in 2009 to strengthen the protection of people in detention through independent monitoring. In coordination across the four nations of the UK, the NPM focuses attention on practices in detention that could amount to ill-treatment, and works to ensure its own approaches are consistent with international standards for independent detention monitoring. ICVA represents independent custody visiting for England and Wales at the UKNPM although the 21 NPM members include those from all four jurisdictions of the UK.

ICVA and the scheme manager from Sussex approached the UK National Preventive Mechanism (UKNPM) for a discussion of how the work undertaken on police custody could best be shared with monitors of wider detention types which include prisons, those in mental health detention and social care settings.

The NPM members agreed a Task and Finish group, on which ICVA and the OPCC have representation, which is now working towards adapting the training materials from the OPCC and ICVA to cover all detention types and monitoring, creating an awareness video and a toolkit for monitors undertaking their visits. This will assist with what ‘good’ looks like in terms of care for persons deprived of their liberty experiencing perimenopause, menopause or post-menopause symptoms and how monitors can escalate concerns where needed.

This awareness package and toolkit will be shared by the NPM to all of the members for onward dissemination to monitors themselves, and, in the process, doubtlessly not only raise awareness but also start to prevent any ill-treatment of those deprived of their liberty who are going through this natural hormonal change. It is integral that work to prevent ill treatment and to ensure that detainees are given the best possible care is shared across all types of detention, and ICVA is proud to be part of this thematic workstream.

Wendy Sinclair Geiben, Chair of the UKNPM said:

“This is excellent work. For far too long, detention – indeed society as a whole – has been designed for men, with women an afterthought. As scrutiny bodies we must look at our own approach too. I am delighted that the NPM is producing this toolkit to raise awareness and build capacity amongst our membership of how to monitor and scrutinise detention settings approach to the menopause. I must praise the important work from Sherry Ralph and Claire Taylor on getting this on the national agenda. Preventing ill-treatment and the fight against torture is a collaborative effort and the collaboration demonstrated in this project has been outstanding.”

[1] ICVA are members of the UK National Preventive Mechanism (UKNPM) as required by the Optional Protocol against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) – an international human rights treaty designed to strengthen the protection of people deprived of their liberty.

[2] All parties to the work acknowledge that perimenopause and menopausal symptoms may be experienced by detainees under this age, and it may be that on further review post implementation, that the criteria for the screening question is amended.

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