Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire courts custody – respectful but COVID-19 protections need to improve

Read the report: Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire court custody facilities

Inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMI Prisons) found that detainees in criminal court custody facilities in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire were generally treated with respect and empathy.

However, during a visit to cells at six courts in September 2020, inspectors were concerned by an inadequate focus on social distancing, cleanliness and mask-wearing to protect against the COVID-19 virus.

As in other areas across England and Wales, many court hearings during the early stages of the pandemic had used video appearances from police stations and prisons. Though physical appearances in courts had been rising slowly since June, court activity and the number of detainees held in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in September were still substantially below pre-COVID-19 levels.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), Prisoner Escort and Custody Services (PECS) – two government agencies involved in courts custody – and the private contractor GEOAmey had worked together to risk assess the reintroduction of in-person hearings to make court custody safe for detainees and staff.

However, Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “Insufficient attention was paid to social distancing and cleaning regimes were not as thorough or robust as we would have expected. Detainees were not provided with face coverings or encouraged to wear them, nor were they given the opportunity to wash and/or sanitise their hands regularly enough.”

Inspectors found that physical conditions in the courts, with a total of 120 cells, varied. Chesterfield and Derby magistrates’ courts were generally good, but others were less well maintained and grubby in places.

Detainees said they were treated well. Mr Taylor added: “We saw many staff take a generally respectful and empathetic approach towards detainees. They understood the impact custody could have on detainees and focused well on de-escalating potentially volatile situations to avoid having to use force, which was deployed only as a last resort.”

On a less positive note, though, in addition to the management of COVID-19 risks inspectors had two further key concerns:

  • The cases of those detained in custody were not always prioritised, which meant some were held in court custody for longer than necessary.
  • Training and development activities were not always sufficient. Custody staff often lacked sufficient understanding of key policies and procedures, particularly in equality and diversity, safeguarding, working with children and mental health and substance misuse awareness, and often failed to implement them satisfactorily.

GEOAmey secured a new contract to deliver court custody and escort services in the region from August 2020. Overall, Mr Taylor said:

“The new contract has the scope to deliver changes in the way detainees were treated. Health provision had been radically overhauled and, although it was too early to assess it effectively, the developments were positive. Plans had been somewhat stymied by COVID-19, but we were hopeful that progress would be made soon.”

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Notes to editors

1. Read the report: Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire court custody facilities. This report was published on 19 November 2020.

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. HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ inspections of court custody facilities contribute to the United Kingdom’s response to its international obligation to ensure regular independent inspection of all places of detention. The inspections focus on outcomes for detainees in five areas:

  • leadership and multi-agency relationships
  • transfer to court custody
  • in the custody suite reception processes: individual needs and legal rights
  • in the custody cell: safeguarding and health care
  • release and transfer from court custody.

4. This inspection covered custody in the court cluster in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire – a total of 120 cells across two crown courts and four magistrates’ courts, with a detainee throughput of 7,231 detainees. The prisoner escort and custody services (PECS) arm of HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) contracted GEOAmey on behalf of HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to provide court custody and escort facilities in the region. This was the second inspection of court custody in this cluster and only eight of the 29 recommendations made in 2013 had been achieved.

5. This inspection took place between 23–30 September 2020.

6. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons on 07880 787452, or at, if you would like more information.