When I started working for ICVA a few years ago, an HMIP inspector pointed out that independent custody visitors often disagreed with inspectorate findings. She asked why it was that inspectors could see problems that ICVs could not.
There were lots of reasons for this. ICVs don’t look at the same things; they have a different methodology and up to two hours speaking to detainees to hear about their experiences. However, this question nagged at me.
It wasn’t just me that it was nagging at: my colleagues, some scheme managers, some custody inspectors. We were all thinking about whether independent custody visiting was giving maximum value.
There is so much to celebrate about independent custody visiting – local volunteers make spot checks on custody suites. This brings an oversight and openness to policing that is not paralleled elsewhere. ICVs make demonstrable improvements to custody and to detainee welfare and their contribution is valued by everyone, including police, who wants custody to improve.
Nonetheless, the methodology does have some limitations. ICVs are volunteers who make unannounced visits to working custody suites. A member of staff immediately stops their work to escort ICVs around the suite to speak to detainees. Yet, ICVs may not see all detainees. ICVs will be warned if a detainee may be violent. ICVs may speak to this detainee through the cell hatch or they may not see them at all. Many of these detainees are the most vulnerable, but ICVs cannot have the same depth of conversation.
ICVs see detainees at a point in the custody process. If they see a child there, they will not know whether this child is likely to spend the night in the cells. If they meet a detainee who is waiting for an Appropriate Adult (AA), the ICVs will often leave before the AA arrives. A discussion with a detainee is a valuable and important conversation, yet detainees are unlikely to know how their case is progressing – whether a solicitor has been contacted, whether they are waiting to see a healthcare professional or for a mental health assessment. ICVs may look at custody records in situ, which can add more information. However, ICVs are often just not afforded the opportunity to uncover strategic problems in their suites.
Enter Team Derbyshire. Just over a year ago, their scheme managers, ICVs and custody inspector started a project with us to see whether we could adapt and build on this model. We did.
ICVs in Derbyshire started looking at custody records. ICVs have access to the completed custody records of a number of vulnerable detainees, starting with children and those in poor mental health. They check the records against key actions we’d expect to see. Their findings have been incredible.
Derbyshire have been able to identify and resolve issues. Children access their Appropriate Adult hours faster than they did before. This may sound small, but imagine any teenager you know alone, in a room with nothing to do and limited understanding of that is taking place. Imagine having to sit in a cell alone yourself. No phone, no personal belongings, no watch, not sure what is taking place around you. Appropriate Adults matter, hours of waiting matters. Derbyshire are well on the way to improve this for vulnerable adults too.
The pilot helps the police, too. ICVs have very much become a critical friend in the suites and their reports deliver case studies and data that demonstrates when public sector partners need to help fulfill their role. The force reporting taking ICV data and case studies to their local partnership meetings to make change.
We are looking at adapting their visits too. It’s early days, but as well as interviewing detainees, ICVs are able to spend time in the suites, observing what happens. We gain a much wider picture.
I spent this morning on a long conference call with five other areas. I came off beaming with pride. We’ve spent the first part of this financial year working with these schemes to prepare and train their ICVs to run custody record reviews. Scheme managers have pulled together through IT challenges, ensuring that we get data protection right, organising logistics and training ICVs and they are good to go. We are rolling out a pilot to see whether the excellent results that we got in Derbyshire can be replicated elsewhere.
I am so proud of what ICVs and schemes do, they are amazing people. I will be watching with interest as the pilot unfolds. We are hoping to find satisfied ICVs who can see the differences they make, engaged police forces and most importantly ongoing improvements to custody. After a long slog, this is an exciting time; let’s see what happens.