Policing and race has been in focus over recent months. The world’s attention was brought to the brutal killing of George Floyd in America and people across the world, including the UK, have questioned racism and equality in policing.
Independent custody visiting has questions of discrimination and equality woven into its history. The Scarman Report introduced a new system of local members of the public to inspect the way police treat detainees in police custody, which evolved into independent custody visiting, as part of its response to what is known as the Brixton riots or uprisings in 1981. This unrest spread across the country with similar events in other cities and was the result of racial disadvantage, unemployment, racial tensions between police and local communities and reports of police brutality. Police custody is often unseen and introducing community oversight brings transparency and, in turn, should increase community confidence that detainees are being treated fairly.
With this history in mind, ICVA continues to act and reflect on our role in responding to international, national and local concerns around policing and race.
Whilst major events bring equality and fairness to the front of our minds, much work has taken place on race and policing in the UK. Going back to the 1990s, after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the MacPherson Report found that the Metropolitan Police were institutionally racist and was a seminal moment in policing. The report made a raft of recommendations including performance indicators, training and diverse recruitment to improve the service.
More recently the Lammy Report found that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people continue to face bias, including overt discrimination, in parts of the justice system. Lammy found that between 2010/11 and 2014/15, the likelihood of Black people being stopped and searched fell from six times that of White people to four times that of White people; it then rose again to just over eight times more likely in 2016/17. Also noting that despite making up just 14% of the population, BAME men and women make up 25% of prisoners, while over 40% of young people in custody are from BAME backgrounds.
Dame Elish Angiolini investigated deaths and serious incidents in police custody, reporting, in 2017, that “there is evidence of disproportionate deaths of BAME people in restraint related deaths. Any death involving a BAME victim who died following the use of force has the capacity to provoke community disquiet leading to a lack of public confidence and trust in the justice system. This can be exacerbated if people are not seen to be held to account, or if the misconduct process is opaque.”
Independent custody visiting is a key element of community scrutiny of policing and we must consider these findings and confront areas for improvement as well as celebrate success.
We are proud of our volunteers and celebrate their work. ICVs have accomplished some brilliant things and we are proud to share this. ICVs know that it’s important to represent all of our communities and bring understanding of issues of diversity and inequality. ICVs bring different life experiences and can point out when errors are made in detainee care and can prevent them happening again. They also stress the importance of the public being able to relate to ICVs to provide community reassurance. We all have different life experiences and we all bring different perspectives to the table. Whether that be understanding dietary needs, religious requirements or menstrual care, diversity makes us stronger. Detainees have no choice over whether they are in police custody, diverse groups of ICVs help to ensure that the needs of every detainee are met. We have highlighted both local and national issues to the police and have seen them introduce improvements as a result. We are proud of our volunteers and know that we have further to go to improve diversity and achieve these aims.
ICVA’s role is to lead, support and represent schemes. We have a great deal of resources available to support scheme managers and ICVs to eliminate discrimination as part of their work. This includes resources to promote diverse recruitment, sharing the work of successful schemes. We also have a suite of training resources and guidance available to ICVs encompassing the Angiolini Review, the Lammy Report and deep dives into important issues. We have delivered conferences challenging unconscious bias and encouraging schemes to conduct equality impact assessments. We have welcomed challenging speakers who have urged ICVs to follow up on any niggling feelings of discomfort and highlight anything that stands out as positive or poor.
Our pilot (ICOP) brings community scrutiny to custody records and can be used to monitor treatment of detainees and has potential to look at treatment across different demographic groups. Data is like gold dust in policing. Moreover, ICVs’ perspectives on custody records has proved incredibly valuable. We are developing this new way of working now and thinking about how we can share its benefits with all schemes to strengthen monitoring of diversity issues.
However, there is more that we can do and there’s space to think and plan.
As the Black Lives Matter protests were at their height, we considered how to respond. As an organisation, we were conscious of our role and wanted to ensure we focussed our attention and resources on meaningful and substantive work that will make a difference. We have had some frank and open discussions with scheme managers, which have been valuable, and we are acting.
We are working with the Criminal Justice Alliance to review our work. We will be consulting with scheme managers and volunteers to look at how we recruit, retain, support and develop diverse volunteers. We will also be examining how we monitor equality, notably race and gender, sharing what works well and developing recommendations where we can improve. This research is starting now and will continue across autumn so that we can come back stronger next year.
Having a diverse group of volunteers is not enough if those volunteers and scheme managers do not feel equipped to have difficult conversations. We will be planning how we can support schemes to have those conversations confidently and constructively. Please do get in touch if you have requests and ideas.
It has also been heartening to see what schemes are doing – from increased training and to preparing to deep dive into data and get a better picture of what is happening, our schemes are working hard.
Equality and fairness are the heart of independent custody visiting. We are proud of what our schemes and volunteers have achieved so far and we are looking forward to supporting you further to help ensure that custody is safe and dignified for everyone.