Hertfordshire police custody – a mixed picture

Police custody in Hertfordshire had made progress in some areas, although some improvements were also needed, 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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Hertfordshire – Joint inspection of police custody

The inspection was part of a national programme of joint inspections of police custody and the second inspection of Hertfordshire Constabulary custody suites. The first inspection was in January 2009. Since then, some areas had achieved significant success while others had declined. Inspectors visited custody suites at Hatfield, Hoddesdon, Stevenage and Watford. Despite a strong strategic direction for the future, there were gaps in the current management of custody.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • by working with health care partners, Hertfordshire Constabulary had avoided using police cells as a place of safety under the Mental Health Act (1983) for three years;
  • treatment of detainees was professional and polite and the physical conditions of the custody suites were good;
  • staff handovers between shifts were well conducted, relevant and focused;
  • detainees’ individual rights were supported, and custody sergeants were confident in refusing detention where appropriate; and
  • the appropriate adult service for vulnerable adults and children was good, but did not operate during the night, causing delays for some of the most vulnerable detainees.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • there was insufficient monitoring of the use of force;
  • there were weaknesses in monitoring staff performance and quality checks;
  • provision for children in detention was generally poor and some children could have been placed in safe accommodation with extended family or foster care, but were not;
  • detainees were sometimes placed in anti-rip clothing as a standard response when they did not cooperate or were too drunk to comply;
  • pre-release risk assessments of detainees were often poor;
  • dedicated officers were employed to support the introduction of video courts at three suites, but despite these facilities being available, staff still reported some difficulties in getting the remand court to accept detainees later than 1 or 2pm, leading to unnecessary detention; and
  • health provision was fragmented with significant staff vacancies which caused delays and the force was not managing this service adequately.

Nick Hardwick and Dru Sharpling said:

“Hertfordshire Constabulary has had some significant successes: effective work with partners has meant that police cells have not been used as a place of safety under the mental health act; the appropriate adult service for children and vulnerable adults was good, although it needed to be sufficiently available at night; and good use was made of video court facilities in some suites. Interactions between individual staff and detainees were good. Good use of alternatives to detention were made when appropriate. Other areas needed greater management oversight and monitoring. Alternatives to detention for children were not sufficiently pursued, use of force and anti-rip clothing were not adequately managed and the management of the health service was weak. We hope this report will assist in making the further improvement necessary.”

Get the report

Hertfordshire – 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 18-22 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.