I guess I am a nosy person. I like going round Historic Scotland sites (then the visiting coffee shop/gift shop) and I enjoy watching Grand Designs. So when I was told about the Independent Custodial Visiting Scheme my nose grew a little longer. What do police cells look like? What happens inside these places? Who would do that sort of thing? Turns out to be people like me. At the point I joined I was 44, in a long-term relationship and with some free time. My partner (now my husband) and I enjoy driving and it turns out his nose is as big as mine.
A friend had asked me several times to join up – Cluster 3 were needing some new blood and he thought I would enjoy it (did he know about my nose?). I chatted to him and found out that visitors turn up unannounced to police stations and speak to detainees to check how they are being treated and ensure their human rights are being respected. Application form complete, I had an informal interview with the area manager and was invited to join the training session in Glasgow. My partner thought he would join at the same time so off we went.
Training was an eye opener – what we may see, what may happen and what detainees may say to us. However, the conversations are well scripted, and they ensure that all areas are covered – medical needs, knowing why detainees are being held, that someone knows where they are etc. Naturally there is some paperwork but it isn’t too hard to fill in. First visits are done with an experienced partner and on my first visit, my guide made sure I had a good tour of the station. The staff at the Police Stations have always been welcoming, despite some pressures.
My background does involve speaking to people. I am a teacher and a natural gas bag. We never visit anywhere on our own and the managers are pretty good at pairing people together well.
COVID has obviously changed things completely. We aren’t able to go into the stations and instead we are making three-way calls to the stations. We still speak to detainees, but it isn’t the same. We are ensuring that detainees are being treated well, that stations have supplies of PPE, food etc and that maintenance is being carried out properly. However, I look forward to the day when we return to in person visits.
So, what do I get out of it? I meet people often on their worst days and I am able to offer reassurance that their human rights are being met. I am able to see first-hand that the Police are treating detainees fairly when in custody and I feel I am giving something back to society. I also get to meet some great people and still manage to get a laugh out of it. Being thanked by a detainee who assured me he was fine and was being treated brilliantly, finishing with a classic ‘they are just doing their job’ type of comment made me smile. He even wished me a pleasant day.
Would I recommend this volunteering activity? Absolutely yes! It is such a unique position to be in, it lets me travel to see a variety of custody suites and I get to choose times that I am free. A schedule is made up by the managers and we are told where we are visiting and given either a week or a fortnight in which to do the visit. We say which stations we are free to visit and on we go! Expenses are paid for mileage so we aren’t out of pocket.
Skills needed by the volunteers include patience, wanting to work and chat to a huge diversity of society’s members and most important confidentiality. I look forward to the return of face-to-face visits and my nose continuing to grow!!