I am extremely fortunate to have such a diverse and varied role. One moment I may be representing custody visitors’ work to national partners or ministers, the next I may be working on projects to support schemes to help protect detainee rights and wellbeing. Since starting as the CEO in September 2021, I have seen and heard a variety of innovative and creative methods to protect detainees. Yet, there is one thing that has frustrated me since joining ICVA- because of covid restrictions, I haven’t had much opportunity to travel and see some of this good work in person. Now that the restrictions have eased, one of my top priorities is to spend time with ICVA’s members, custody visitors and in custody itself. Being on the ground enables me to hear ideas, see policy implemented and experience a range of different custody settings. So, when Lisa, scheme manager for Greater Manchester invited me to attend an ICV support group meeting and have a tour of a custody suite, I gladly accepted!
The ICV’s I spoke to were extremely proud of their scheme and it was clear that there is a harmonious relationship amongst the group, and that their role as a critical friend to the force is not only respected but cherished by the custody staff. Inspector Lloyd Barnard, offered to initiate PACE refresher training for the ICV’s which was welcomed by all. Moreover, the scheme has recently adopted electronic reporting in custody suites. Whilst only a few weeks old, there was deep enthusiasm amongst ICV’s towards the move away from paper-based records to electronic reporting, with all deeming it to be a more effective and streamlined way of capturing information. Electronic devices are now in all custody suites across Greater Manchester, and all custody staff have been briefed on the new arrangements. It was heartening to hear that the move to electronic reporting is being supported by Greater Manchester Combined Authority staff. The lead Officer for the project was on hand to answer questions from the group and will accompany ICV’s on their first visits using the device to ensure that they are comfortable with the new way of reporting.
OPCCs and, indeed, constabularies have a wide range of areas to focus on and understanding of custody can vary. The ICV’s that I met were all knowledgeable and keen to improve. The whole team proudly discussed schemes that attempt to use custody as a triage space, to divert detainees into services that will help to reduce reoffending and better meet their needs. Learning from others and using their own initiative, Greater Manchester Combined Authority have placed a particular focus on diverting women who are in or at risk of entering the justice system. The group was given a presentation on this work, the top line being that reoffending rates for women across Greater Manchester is lowest when compared to most similar police force areas. Everyone around the table saw the value of a joined-up approach and their role in making a tangible difference to the lives of those who enter custody. It was joy to see.
After the meeting, Inspector Barnard kindly gave me a tour of a custody suite in Manchester. I was struck by the desire to ensure that distraction items, such as chalk paint on cells walls, and foam footballs, were on offer to detainees. Custody is a place where, historically, items are removed from those who enter the cells with very little other than a mattress, a pillow and four plain walls to stare at. Research has indicated that distraction items reduce anxiety levels which help them engage better with the custody process. Everyone I spoke to at the suite, commented that the items have played a pivotal role in lessening the tension between detainees and custody staff. I strongly believe that the environment matters. However, it is my experience and view that, although the environment matters, the attitude of the staff is most important. Inspector Barnard and his staff clearly demonstrated care and concern, and an unwavering desire to make the custody suite a place that upholds detainee dignity, both physically and mentally.
And so, on the train journey home, I reflected on the day. Custody isn’t an easy place to be. People in custody are often in crisis and in need, and often require help. Maintaining the dignity of detainees and protecting their rights and entitlements is not only a legal responsibility but also a moral imperative. I am fortunate and so proud to work with partners who attempt to look at custody with intelligence and thoughtfulness. Ultimately, we are all better off when custody works effectively and achieves the right outcomes for detainees, and I am deeply appreciative of the ICV’s, scheme managers, staff and partners who work hard to improve custody every day.