Avon and Somerset police custody – slow progress

Police custody in Avon and Somerset had improved, but progress had been slow and further work was required, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary. Today they published the report of an unannounced inspection.

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Avon and Somerset – Joint inspection of police custody

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody and the second inspection of Avon and Somerset police custody cells. The first inspection was in 2012 when inspectors described provision as adequate. Over the past three years, the number of custody suites has been reduced from 22 to five, with four in day-to-day use. Recently inspectors visited the custody suites at Bridgwater, Keynsham, Minehead, Patchway and Yeovil, looking at strategy, treatment and conditions, individual rights and health care.

Inspectors found that the constabulary was at a critical point where it needed to implement some key changes and engage staff in the process. Some work practices needed to be improved to ensure that detainees consistently received good care.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • custody staff generally dealt with detainees in a respectful, dignified and professional way;
  • health care provision was good;
  • the constabulary had taken a robust stance in ensuring that detainees with mental health issues were not brought into custody, although there were still some vulnerable people being held there;
  • there was a strong emphasis on avoiding the detention of children and other options, such as voluntary attendance or community resolution, were being sought; and
  • support for people about to be released from police custody was better in practice than records indicated.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • since the 2012 inspection, there had been a lack of continuity in leadership which had hindered progress;
  • the absence of reliable data in a number of important areas was a considerable weakness and meant lessons were not always learned;
  • the incapacitant spray PAVA had been used more frequently than inspectors had previously seen, and appeared to be used in many cases to force detainees to comply, which was not appropriate;
  • the physical conditions of the custody suites were disappointing; and
  • there was a lack of clarity about the governance and oversight of the use of force in custody.

Peter Clarke and Dru Sharpling said:

“It was clear that progress had been made in some areas, although this had been achieved at a slow pace. In the short term, the high use of PAVA spray needed immediate attention and work was required to raise the standard of living conditions for detainees. This report provides three recommendations to the constabulary and highlights 26 areas for improvement.”

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Avon and Somerset – Joint inspection of police custody

Notes to editors

  1. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  2. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects and regulates all 43 police forces in England and Wales.
  3. Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 enables a police officer to remove, from a public place, someone who they believe to be suffering from a mental disorder and in need of immediate care and control, and take them to a place of safety – for example, a health or social care facility, or the home of a relative or friend. In exceptional circumstances (for example if the person’s behaviour would pose an unmanageably high risk to others), the place of safety may be police custody. Section 136 also states that the purpose of detention is to enable the person to be assessed by a doctor and an approved mental health professional (for example a specially trained social worker or nurse), and for the making of any necessary arrangements for treatment or care.
  4. This joint inspection was carried out from 1-12 August 2016.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Prisons on 020 3681 2775 or Candy Silver at HMI Constabulary on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.