Custody Concerns Raised

4 January 2012, 11:41

Northumbria Police has been told to make improvements to cells across the region after an unannounced inspection by Government officials

HM Inspector of Constabulary carried out the inspection and said custody standards were ok, but were concerned about police using handcuffs too often, even when there wasn't any risk.

Inspectors covered eight 24-hour custody suites, including; Newcastle's Etal Lane and Clifford Street, Sunderland's Gillbridge and Washington, South Shields, Gateshead, Bedlington and Wallsend.


What The Report Says
In a report, Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, of HM Inspector of Constabulary, said the use of handcuffs by Northumbria Police officers gave them concerns.

"Staff said force policy was that everyone arrested should be handcuffed and the many police officers we spoke to said they would do so regardless of the alleged offence, the compliance of the arrested person or whether the officer was alone or with a colleague.

This had resulted in children, pregnant women and compliant detainees being handcuffed, which was disproportionate and unlikely always to be justifiable.

We saw one 12-year-old in tears in a detention room but staff made no attempt to reassure him or keep him occupied. Another 12-year-old boy appeared bewildered as he was being booked in and was treated much as an adult would have been. We also saw a 14-year-old arriving in handcuffs and remaining in these for a considerable time while other detainees were dealt with."


What Northumbria Police Say
Northumbria Police say that it has to balance the safety of its staff with the well-being of detainees
Superintendent Vince Stubbs said:
 
"A full review of our custody provision was ongoing at the time of the inspection and steps have already been taken to improve our custody services, including the appointment of a Custody Inspector at each area command and an overall Force Custody Manager.

Following the recommendations made in the inspection report and the improvements in our vehicle fleet for transporting detainees we are reviewing our handcuff procedure to make sure that we have struck the right balance."


What The Report's Writers Had To Say
Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

"Overall, police custody in Northumbria was adequate, but problems were evident in some important areas. Detainees were generally treated respectfully and their basic needs were provided for, but this was too often at the initiative of the detainee rather than custody staff.

Conditions varied from good to poor, and the inconsistent application of risk assessment processes was a significant area of concern. We consider the routine use of handcuffing to be disproportionate, and more needs to be done to support those with mental health issues.

This report provides a number of recommendations to assist the force and the Police Authority 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."

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