It’s important to us to spend time in custody suites and with independent custody visitors. So, yesterday I visited Leicestershire, home of Lord Bach (PCC and one of ICVA’s directors) where I met with their scheme manager, Shameera, and went on a visit. Unlike other visits, however, I was with the Prison and Probation Ombudsman Sue McAllister. This was long in the diary, but happened to coincide with an inspection of police custody.
The custody suites were busy with inspectors, ICVs, Sue and I. So why do so many of us visit custody and what do we do with what we find?
Tacit knowledge is the kind of knowledge that it’s difficult to share with someone else, hard to write down, codify and transfer. It’s something that you just get the hang of as you do your job. A tacit understanding of custody is really important to ICVA. We spend a fair amount of time making decisions and recommendations for custody and it’s important to us to be able to anticipate why one idea might work and another might fail. Custody suites vary massively across the UK and something that might seem sensible and easy to achieve in one area can seem silly in another. This is important for wellbeing issues. For example, the Leicestershire suite that we visited had a very private shower and a good exercise area that were being offered to detainees. In contrast, other areas may have more exposed showers and staff deliver privacy by closing parts of the suite to prevent people walking past. Both suites are delivering a shower to detainees: one will find it easier to achieve than another. It’s important that we understand that, and many similar examples, to fully understand challenges to custody.
Another reason why different bodies visit custody is that they bring different perspectives. The joint inspection team will bring many professionals into a single area across two weeks. They will do a thorough and impressive inspection of custody and draw up useful and important recommendations. However, their inspections are every few years. Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) will be in the suites week in and week out. We work hard to make the most of this difference. ICVA writes a report for each scheme, summarising each inspection report for ICV schemes to consider and take forward in the weeks and months ahead. We will read Leicestershire’s report when it comes out, highlight areas that stand out and places where ICVs can make a difference. The scheme will then share this and make local improvements over time. We make a bigger impact by working together.
ICVA also has much to learn from other agencies. We are an active participant in the NPM where ICVA’s Chief Operating Officer chairs a policing subgroup, bringing together all agencies who monitor police detention across the UK. We work with the Independent Advisory Panel, with INQUEST, the Howard League, Prison Reform Trust and many others who look at learning across detention settings. Many of the issues in police custody are reflected in other areas of detention too: big issues such as healthcare and mental health and seemingly smaller issues like responding to cell call bells. Visiting Leicestershire with Sue meant that we could see differences and similarities at play. It raises interesting questions and suggestions for improvement.
Yesterday also gave a good chance for reflection. A common challenge that many scrutiny bodies face is how to ensure recommendations are implemented on the ground. We often see repeat issues and repeat recommendations and this is a challenge. Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back and mull over ideas, share research and take time to think about how we can move forward to make the most of ICVs’ important work.
ICVA can only be successful when it works with others and I was delighted to join Shameera, Lord Bach and their volunteers yesterday and look forward to seeing, and working together on, the results of their inspection.