I had the pleasure of spending the past two days at the NPCC Criminal Justice Conference, a superb event that challenged us all to increase confidence in the criminal justice system. I had the even greater pleasure of being given a CJ Star award, as one of just four winners across the criminal justice portfolio this year. How lovely.
The police generally welcome ICVs, but I frequently hear that ICVs turn up at busy times (good) and that they pick up on niggles. But here’s the thing: the niggles matter. Cups of tea, staying warm, phonecalls to loved ones all matter to humans when we’re vulnerable. Years of academic research tells us that human kindness in custody matters. One such matter that we picked up on, and that I received the award for, was menstrual care.
I am the lucky figurehead who gets the award, but whilst there is always somebody who drives a change; change is also always a team effort. So, I’d like to thank a number of people for sharing this workload with us:
Firstly – the ICVs and scheme managers who highlighted the problem, a hidden and taboo issue. They did so well to notice it, to bring it to our attention and to work with us to look for solutions and solve the problem. A special mention and massive thanks to Liane in Essex for her tireless work.
Secondly – to my colleagues. To Sherry, who wrote the first blog on the issue. To my Board and Chair for being brave and taking on a difficult issue. To the inspectorates who painstakingly check and detail the care of female detainees. To our legal counsel at Doughty Street, who gave their time pro bono and added gravity and legitimacy to the work. Our Home Office civil servants who spent hours working through guidance, drafting proposed legal changes and building ministerial support. To all of those who worked on the media (Beth, Hazel, Emily, Natasha) around the issue, you were brilliant.
Thirdly – to the police who worked hard to make cultural change. Supt. Katy Barrow-Grint who stuck her head above the parapet and came on Woman’s Hour with us, a brilliant day and Jenni Murray was (rightly) impressed by her. Sergeant Chris Hampshire briefly became known as ‘pants man’ as he worked hard to replace those awful paper pants detainees are given with normal cotton underwear. Both Katy and Chris gave early momentum and support to the work, which made a big difference.
ACC Nev Kemp and his Staff Sergeant Vinny Wagjiani took on the national portfolio just as we ran our media day. I am sure they did not expect that they’d be discussing periods and they did so with more grace than we could reasonably expect. They then got stuck in and led work to deliver guidance and solve problems.
Finally – I want to thank every volunteer, detention officer, sergeant and other member of staff who has overcome embarrassment to discuss tampons, menstrual products, flows, disposal, CCTV and toilets. No detainee should be left to bleed out for want of a difficult conversation, but the conversation has been difficult for some. Your efforts are noted and continue to make a difference. Thank you.
The work is not over. Brexit has taken up Parliamentary time and is slowing passage of PACE Code changes that the Government has consulted on. Our excellent ICVs and scheme managers continue to ask detainees if they’ve been offered menstrual products and they make sure that products are available as needed. I am incredibly proud for them. It’s hard and repetitive work and ICVs are volunteers. What huge stars. Thank you – you should know that this award is yours too.
As I mentioned, the conference focussed on building confidence in the criminal justice system. One presentation that has always stuck in my mind from years back included a short film asking victims of child sexual exploitation why they finally started to trust the police. Their answer was clear and stark – because they offered the girls a cup of tea and were kind to them. I imagine myself in their place. I think about being stressed, locked in a cell and trying to make do without menstrual products because you haven’t been offered and are too embarrassed to ask. The horrible task of trying to make do with toilet paper or (as one former detainee told me) a sock. That nagging worry you’ll bleed through your clothes each time you move. I compare that to who I’d feel if I was given new, clean underwear, tampons and towels and wipes. It’s a small change that makes a huge impact.
The truth is that vulnerable female victims regularly come into police custody and if we can use this change to build their faith in the criminal justice system then we will build a better system overall. That’s something to applaud.