South Yorkshire police custody - generally positive

Police custody in South Yorkshire had improved, and was positive overall, but the force needed to focus on improving risk assessments, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary. Today they published the report of an unannounced inspection.

Get the report

Read South Yorkshire – Joint inspection of police custody suites

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody and the second inspection of South Yorkshire police custody suites. The first inspection in July 2010 had generally positive findings, but inspectors drew the service’s attention to improvements required in supervising the use of force and managing medications and mental health services. More recently, inspectors visited the following full-time custody suites: Barnsley, Charge Office Bridge Street (Sheffield), Doncaster, Ecclesfield and Rotherham, as well as a standby suite at Mossway.

This inspection identified a number of improvements, and some instances of good practice, but there were also a number of inadequacies, particularly concerning risk assessments and a specific use of force technique.
Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • there were clear lines of accountability in the leadership and management of custody supported by forums and structures in which custody issues were addressed;
  • South Yorkshire Police was developing plans to renew its custody suites by building new and larger facilities to replace the older suites currently in use;
  • police staff were polite and interactions between most detainees and staff were courteous, and detainees said they were well looked after;
  • despite their age, custody facilities and cells were clean and free from graffiti;
  • there had been some excellent partnership work to secure local authority accommodation for young people in custody in Sheffield;
  • all detainees were informed of their rights during their time in custody;
  • appropriate adult services were available in most suites; and
  • health care services were generally good and the street triage service which allowed people in immediate need of mental health care to be diverted without the need to be taken into police custody, was good.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • the process for the collection and analysis of custody data and management information required improvement, as did quality assurance arrangements and processes to ensure learning was applied;
  • most forces have a computerised custody system, but South Yorkshire had a mixed record-keeping system including handwritten records, many of which were in part illegible, which undermined accountable and effective risk management and handover;
  • some restraint techniques were disproportionate, potentially unsafe and poorly supervised; and
  • risk assessment and management in general was weak, with often formulaic handovers and pre-release risk assessments.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

“Improvements had taken place and it was encouraging that even though South Yorkshire Police were in the early stages of opening a new custody suite and closing existing buildings, they continued to maintain a reasonable standard. We noted that, of the 25 recommendations made in our previous report in 2010, six had been achieved, seven had been partially achieved and 12 had not been achieved. This report provides a number of recommendations to assist the force and the Police and Crime Commissioner to improve provision further. We expect our findings to be considered in the wider context of priorities and resourcing, and for an action plan to be provided in due course.”

Get the report

Read South Yorkshire – Joint inspection of police custody suites

Notes to editors

  • A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 9 December 2014 at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • This joint inspection was carried out from 28 April – 2 May 2014.

Please contact Jane Parsons (HMI Prisons) on 07880 787452 or Phil Gillen (HMIC) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.