Bedfordshire Police Custody - Positive features but concerns over lack of progress in some areas
Joint criminal justice inspectors found some positive features in Bedfordshire Police’s two custody suites but also identified a lack of progress on key concerns from the previous inspection five years before.
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Bedfordshire custody was part of a well-established tri-force collaboration with Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire constabularies and there was sufficient oversight from senior officers in Bedfordshire.
Custody staff were well trained and although they were sometimes stretched at busy times there were generally sufficient numbers to meet demand.
Among the positive features, inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Service, in a joint inspection in October 2019, reported that the force “had a clear commitment to improving services for those with mental ill health, and there was good evidence of diversion from custody.”
However, children charged and refused bail were not moved into local authority accommodation as they should have been. Finding alternative accommodation for children refused bail is a problem seen widely across police custody inspections.
Though the suites were ageing they were clean and all cells had natural light. Staff received training to help them better understand and manage the wide range of diverse needs of those coming in to custody. There was a good focus on meeting the needs of female detainees and detainees were asked about their faith needs.
Staff engaged positively to de-escalate encounters with challenging detainees. However, inspectors were concerned about inadequacies in the overall governance and record-keeping on use of force.
The quality of custody records was also found not to be good enough and, the report noted, “it was not always clear what actions had been taken in the treatment of detainees.”
Records often lacked detail about the provision of food and drinks and other welfare requirements, as well as the reasons and justification for why actions such as the use of force against detainees had been necessary. The quality of custody records was a concern in 2014.
Inspectors found “many positive aspects” in the conduct of PACE reviews of detention under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE). Most were on time and face-to-face and those observed in the visit were conducted respectfully with a proper focus on their welfare. However, the report added, “due process was not always followed.” Children and vulnerable adults did not always receive early support from Appropriate Adults (AAs). Securing AAs promptly had been a concern in the 2014 inspection.
Overall, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Wendy Williams, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said:
“Although the strategic lead for custody sat with Hertfordshire, there was sufficient oversight from senior officers in Bedfordshire, and governance structures provided clear accountability for the delivery of custody. Although we found some positive features, there had been a lack of progress in a number of key areas since our last inspection. During this inspection, we had several causes of concern and highlighted a number of areas for improvement.”
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- 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.
- On 19 July 2017 HMIC took on responsibility for fire & rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services.
- HMICFRS is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and assesses and reports on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMICFRS inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing and law enforcement bodies. HMICFRS will inspect all 45 fire and rescue services in England.
- This report is part of a programme of unannounced inspections of police custody carried out jointly by the two inspectorates and which form a key part of the joint work programme of the criminal justice inspectorates. These inspections also contribute to the United Kingdom’s response to its international obligation to ensure regular and independent inspection of all places of detention. The inspections look at strategy, treatment and conditions, individual rights and health care.
- This report describes the findings following an unannounced inspection between 7 and 17 October 2019 of two custody suites, at Kempston and Luton, containing 39 cells. In the year to 30 September 2019 the detainee throughput was 8,686. Bedfordshire suites were last inspected in 2014.
- To aid improvement HMIP and HMICFRS have made four recommendations to the force (and the Police and Crime Commissioner) addressing key causes of concern, and have highlighted an additional 19 areas for improvement. These are set out in Section 6 of the report.
- Please contact John Steele (HMIP Press Office) on 07880 787452 or the HMICFRS Press Office on 020 3513 0634 if you would like more information.