South Yorkshire Police custody – a mix of positive findings and concerns for inspectors

Criminal justice inspectors found a mixed picture when they visited police custody suites in South Yorkshire, with some positive features but also several areas for concern.

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South Yorkshire Police – Joint Inspection of Police Custody

A report on an inspection in June 2019, by HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, said South Yorkshire’s custody services focused well on safe detention, but were not delivering consistently good outcomes for detainees.

There were clear lines of accountability and custody officers and staff were well trained. “However, there was a lack of leadership and direction, which meant the day-to-day operation of the suites was not managed effectively…this led to some poor outcomes for detainees, such as cell call bells not always being answered promptly.”

Inspectors found areas where the force was not consistently meeting the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) or section 31 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, which requires that all detained girls should be in the care of a woman. The report noted: “There was little focus on meeting the needs of female detainees. Although a good range of menstrual care products was routinely offered, women were not regularly informed that they could speak with a female member of staff.”

Physical conditions in the two newer suites at Barnsley and Sheffield were generally good, but the Doncaster suite was old and in a state of disrepair. Health services had improved since the last inspection.

The report noted: “Many aspects of detainee care were poor. Although staff dealt with detainees courteously and most were offered food and drinks at regular intervals, access to reading material, showers and exercise was very limited. The quality of blankets and mattresses was poor and they provided detainees with little warmth or comfort.”

On a positive note, the approach to ‘adverse incidents’ was good, with lessons learned to support improvement. More generally, however, much of the performance management data was inaccurate or not available for some key areas. “This meant the force did not understand how well custody services were performing.”

South Yorkshire was focused on diverting children and vulnerable people, especially those with mental ill-health, away from custody. However, when in a small number of cases children were refused bail alternative overnight local authority accommodation was rarely found for them. This problem has been noted in many police custody inspections.

The approach to identifying risks for detainees was good and many arrangements for managing and mitigating these risks were positive. Some aspects of the way in which police inspectors carried out reviews of detention were also positive – for example, many were carried out on time and either in person or by live link. However, reviews of detention had not taken place at all in some cases.

Overall, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and HM Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams, said:

“While we found a number of positive features, there were several causes of concern and areas that required improvement. However, the force had made some progress since our last inspection in 2014 and was open to external scrutiny, which meant we were confident that it would take action to improve.”

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South Yorkshire Police – Joint Inspection of Police Custody


  1. A copy of the full report, published on 1 October 2019, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at:
  2. 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.
  3. On 19 July 2017 HMIC took on responsibility for fire & rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. This report describes the findings following an unannounced inspection between 110 – 20 June 2019 of custody suites in Sheffield, Barnsley and Doncaster– a total of 108 cells with an annual throughput of 222,229 detainees. South Yorkshire Police custody was last inspected in 2014.
  7. Please contact John Steele (HMIP Press Office) on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452 or the HMICFRS Press Office on 020 3513 0634 if you would like more information.