Many people may have heard the phrases “Independent Custody Visitor” and the “Independent Custody Visiting Scheme” and may be wondering what it is all about.
Our role as Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) is based upon checking on the welfare of detainees, who have been arrested by police officers on suspicion of committing a crime, and held in police custody, until they can appear in court.
Our responsibilities as ICVs include attending continuing professional development training, to keep our skills up to date, to attend at custody centres unannounced and in pairs, to interview detainees, in relation to their welfare. We show our ID cards on arrival and ask if this is a suitable time to speak to the detainees. Some detainees may be out for police or solicitor interviews, or at hospital. Not all detainees wish to speak with us, it is their choice, after custody staff have explained the purpose of our visit, using a cue card.
We also check out and report on the condition of the custody suite, observing any potential danger to detainees such as ligature points or damage to the cells, and report any concerns found.
ICVs have a pre-printed checklist, with questions ranging from “Do you understand why you are detained?” through to “Is your toilet working?” We then discuss with the custody staff any concerns the detainees have expressed or any concerns we may have. We then complete a visitor report form, which the Custody Sergeant reads, and writes any relevant comments, before signing. We also sign this form, and we post it to the Independent Custody Visiting Scotland (ICVS) co-ordinator.
The content of these forms is discussed at quarterly meetings, attended by Senior Police Officers, the Co-ordinator, and Custody Visitors. The police will give an update on their response to any issues which had been raised.
The initial training for ICVs, once they have gone through the selection process, is quite intense but enjoyable. This training gives an overview of the law to which the police operate.
New visitors will be teamed up with a more experienced visitor to begin with, prior to them taking the lead on a visit, to allow their self-confidence and skills to develop.
What attracted us to volunteer with the Independent Custody Visiting Scheme.
Around 15 and a half years ago, we read an advert in a local newspaper, asking for volunteers to apply for this scheme. The advert was intriguing, and we wanted to find out more, about the challenges behind the advert. People from all walks of life, and ages apply to be ICVs. Some people stay for years, others stay a short time, depending on their personal circumstances. We were employed in shift working and found that we could fit the commitments around our free time. We enjoy being part of the team, where there is a good comradery between fellow visitors and the co-ordinating team. All visitors are equal.
What are we proud of?
The number of years we have been involved in the Independent Custody Scheme, the people we have met, the places we have visited from one cell police stations to those which are as modern as the Star Ship Enterprise! From the Isle of Skye to City Centres, and from coastal towns to county towns.
Regardless of where the custody centre is located our focus is always the same, to check on the welfare of the detainee.
We can come across detainees who has not mentioned their medicines to the custody staff, and we can then bring this to the attention of the staff to ensure that the detainee has the medical care they need. There are other occasions where detainees may have requested to see a doctor, or indeed, if a next of kin has been notified, and we bring these issues to the attention of staff which can result in the staff updating and reassuring the detainee.
We are proud of the integrity and professionalism of our fellow visitors and of the teamwork that exists between us all.
What do we find rewarding about Independent Custody Visiting?
The satisfaction of knowing that we are part of a team, dedicated to the welfare of detainees, and safeguarding their rights, knowing, that most friends or relatives of detainees are unaware that we provide a transparency overview, which ensures equal treatment whilst their friend or relative is being held at local custody centres, prior to their appearance in court.
Covid Restrictions when visiting.
With Covid restrictions in place, visiting has been done by phone and the quarterly meetings have taken place virtually, for over a year now. It is hoped that face to face visits and meetings will take place soon.
Why not give Custody Visiting a try yourself?
There is never a dull moment, and as you have read it can be rewarding to be a part of an organisation that focusses on fairness and welfare of the detainee. Being an independent custody visitor can also be beneficial to your own self-esteem, and sense of well-being.
Laura and John.