Gloucestershire police custody – recent move to single suite had led to improvements, but further work needed

Police custody in Gloucestershire had improved and the facilities were excellent but some areas required attention, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary. Today they published the report of an unannounced inspection. 

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Gloucestershire – Joint inspection of police custody

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody and the second inspection of Gloucestershire police custody suites. The first inspection was in July 2008 when there were three custody suites covering a mainly rural county. In February 2015, custody was relocated to a purpose-built 50-cell single suite, Compass House, supported by contingency arrangements with nearby forces in the event of the single site becoming unusable. The building and facilities were impressive and there were also pockets of good practice. Much had improved since the previous inspection, although there were some issues that had declined.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • treatment and conditions were good, and staff were aware of the vulnerabilities and diverse needs of detainees;
  • risk assessments were thorough;
  • the individual rights of detainees were supported and custody sergeants were confident in refusing detention for those arrested when it was not appropriate;
  • the appropriate adult service for vulnerable adults and children in custody was excellent;
  • health care provision was good overall;
  • substance misuse services were supportive; and
  • mental health services were helpful in promoting safer detention for detainees, but were normally only available during office hours.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that: 

  • during the introduction of new IT systems and the introduction of a new health care contractor, elements of performance management and monitoring had deteriorated;
  • strategic partnerships with local authorities were not ensuring correct outcomes for children and young people needing accommodation. Seven children had been held overnight in custody in the previous 12 months but police could not say whether accommodation had been sought for any of them;
  • monitoring of the use of force was inadequate; and
  • despite a positive and continuing downward trend, police had identified 74 occasions when police custody had been used as a place of safety over the previous 12 months for people with mental health issues, who should have been taken to a health care facility.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

“Gloucestershire had provided excellent custody facilities. The inspection found some areas requiring attention following the recent move, particularly concerning strategic and management oversight. We observed good staff interactions, meaningful risk assessments and reliable processes for safe detention, but these need to be continuously monitored through robust performance management and quality assurance systems to ensure that good standards are maintained. More work was required to ensure good outcomes for children’s referral to appropriate accommodation, and for mental health patients who inappropriately end up in police custody. This report provides recommendations to the force and the Police and Crime Commissioner to improve provision further. We expect our findings to be considered and for an action plan to be provided in due course.”

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Gloucestershire – Joint inspection of police custody

Notes to editors:    

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 enables a police officer to remove, from a public place, someone who they believe to be suffering from a mental disorder and in need of immediate care and control, and take them to a place of safety – for example, a health or social care facility, or the home of a relative or friend. In exceptional circumstances (for example if the person’s behaviour would pose an unmanageably high risk to others), the place of safety may be police custody. Section 136 also states that the purpose of detention is to enable the person to be assessed by a doctor and an approved mental health professional (for example a specially trained social worker or nurse), and for the making of any necessary arrangements for treatment or care.
  4. This joint inspection was carried out from 27 April – 2 May 2015. 
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons (HMI Prisons) on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 or Phil Gillen (HMIC) on 020 3513 0600 if you would like more information.