Night Lights in Cells – ICVs Secure National Change


September 22, 2022

  • blogging
  • custody visits
  • detainee welfare
  • guest blog
  • Police and Crime Commissioner
  • police custody
  • volunteers

When does national success in lighting the way ahead mean reducing the amount of light?

Interested?  You are welcome to read on …

What were the issues?

On a weekly basis, Independent Custody Visiting Scheme (ICVS) Managers read many reports from Independent Custody Volunteers (ICVs) who make unannounced visits to custody centres and speak with detainees in their cells.

Early on in my role as ICVS Manager with the Office of Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner (OSPCC), I was reading many examples of best practice and good work in custody.  In addition, I often read about issues relating to distraction items, low levels of clothing stock, poor access to overnight showers and detainees not being able to access rest or sleep.

I remember thinking curiously “Surely that can’t be right.  Why would detainees not be able to rest or sleep? What does this mean for detainees who for example, may be feeling vulnerable, hypersensitive to light through autism, stress or a mental health challenge?”

Rightly so, the ICVs were highlighting observations and experiences from their custody visits.  I read about detainees trying to block out the brightness of the night lights by covering their heads with blankets; detainees reporting the night light setting is too bright and asking for the lights to be dimmed; custody officers being of the opinion that the night light setting was too high and ICVs personally experiencing the high night light setting level:

“The Sgt had an empty cell turned to daylight for us, and boy was it bright. I think you can actually read a book with the night light” Brian Ackerman (Deputy Co-Ordinator)

How was the night light setting originally decided?

First things first, I felt I needed to understand the technical reasons behind the night light level settings.  I can confidently change a light bulb, but I was soon to realise that was nowhere near enough knowledge.

So off to Sussex Police Custody Department I went for a cup of coffee and a fascinating conversation with Inspector Jason Wilson.

Overnight lighting levels clearly need to be sufficient to ensure safety and security of the detainee and custody staff, while offering the detainee an opportunity to access rest and sleep.

As with every custody facility, there are recommendations made in respect of three light levels in cells as per the Police Custody Design Guide (2022):

  • Normal ‘day-time’ lighting level – 150-300 lux
  • High lighting level for cleaning/inspection/visually impaired detainees – 300 – 500 lux
  • Night light inspection minimum level – 15 lux

So, while our newly refurbished custody centres were compliant with national guidance, we were still receiving constant complaints that the lighting was too bright for detainees.

As the complaints from detainees, staff, officers and ICVs kept coming in, something didn’t feel quite right.

What are the complexities of cell lighting?

I knew there was only one person to turn to …

The incredibly knowledgeable Sherry Ralph, Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA) Chief Operating Officer.

Sherry’s experience and insight into the detainee experience and custody was essential to me in this journey.  From working with her, I was soon on a fast-track lesson about the Health & Safety At Work Act 1974, lighting height in cells, rest periods, in person checks of detainees, PACE 1984 and Code C … to name but a few.

Significantly I also learned that other forces had previously raised similar night light issues, and while alternative solutions had been proposed, these were still being explored.

With her parting words of “I’ll put you in touch with Inspector Tony Maggs at the College of Policing and National Police Estate Group”.   Having recently met Inspector Tony Maggs at the ICVA Conference 2022, I knew how passionate he was about custody centre design and optimising the experience for the detainee.  I left Sherry with a skip and jump in my step.

“Good morning, Tony …”

 This was the start of my email which outlined the ICVs observations, the unintended consequences on detainees of the night light setting and a request for a review of the lighting technicalities. And with that, Tony picked up the mantle and jumped into action.

In five months, Tony drove the issue through to a board review, consultation with all forces and achieving agreement on a reduction of the night setting to 10 lux for all new custody centres and refurbishments as of 2023 – success!

Success for vulnerable detainees in police custody centres on a national scale, success for OSPCC ICVs, ICVA and the College of Policing and National Police Estate Group, with the potential to influence detention centres on a wider scale.

Tony said:

“I am acutely aware that the physical environment can play its part in delivering “good” police custody. As a result of ICVs raising concerns in Sussex, Claire mentioned the issue of cell night light levels with me as chair of the Police Custody Standards Board. This group oversee the Design Guide used by forces to construct and refurbish Police custody suites. The Board undertook a review to assess whether lighting levels could be reduced. The outcome is positive for detainees. The new design guide will reduce the lux levels for night lights in Police custody cells. This should result in improved comfort for detainees trying to sleep without impacting their safety.”

So, when does national success in lighting the way ahead mean reducing the amount of light?

When it is lowering light levels in Custody Centres nationally, so overnight detainees can sleep more easily, while keeping it high enough to maintain safety and security.

“A problem which came to light, due to what detainees, when met in their cells, repeatedly told Sussex ICVs during their independent unannounced visits to Custody Centres.  The Sussex ICVS Manager, from the ICVs Visit Reports she received, identified this issue, and with the support of the Sussex PCC, notified her fellow ICV Managers nationally. Alerted the National ICVS found this is a widespread concern warranting their now successful action for this solution to be implemented nationally” (ICV Chris Hardy)

Final Words …

 I could not be more proud of the OSPCC ICVs for the tenacity, consistency and accuracy in reporting the issues.  I feel extremely privileged to work with such a committed and dedicated team of people who are relentlessly passionate about making a difference in their community.  So, the final words go to them …

‘One of the regular remarks by detainees who have spent the night in custody concerns the bright light at night.  It is a constant complaint on our report forms and I am delighted that we have now been able to effect change and I look forward to seeing the detainees in future spending a better night’.   (ICVS Co-Ordinator Susan Middleton)

‘The news about the night lights proves that we can make a difference as ICV’s, and I am sure many detainees will appreciate this’. (ICVS Deputy Co-Ordinator Brian Ackerman)

‘ICVs can shed light on all manner of issues and changes are made’ (ICV Simon Cole)

I am interested in becoming an ICV – how can I find out more?

 If you are interested in making a difference to your community in Sussex, please visit the website of the Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner for details of the local scheme, vacancies and how to apply.  Alternatively contact the ICVS Manager for Sussex

Alternatively for details of your local scheme, please visit the website of your Police & Crime Commissioner.  If you are unsure how to find your local scheme, you are welcome to email being sure to include the area in which you live or work, and ICVA will put you in touch with your local ICVS manager.